Broadcast TV’s Days Are Numbered – Here’s The Proof

Broadcast TV’s Days Are Numbered – Here’s The Proof
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Australian broadcast television is sitting on a demographic time bomb as it continues to lose young viewers at an accelerating rate.

The Australian Video Viewing Report draws figures from Regional TAM, OzTAM and Nielsen – but the numbers tell the same grim story.

Broadcast television remains by far the most-watched source of content, but that doesn’t mean Australia’s broadcasts should give themselves a pat on the back. It’s only the rusted-on 50+ demographic which is keeping the figures from going into total freefall. The 18 to 35 demographic – the next generation of seniors – is looking for entertainment elsewhere.

In 2017, Australians watched an average of 79 hours and 30 minutes of broadcast television on in-home TV sets each month – a 7% drop on the same time in the previous year. This decline is accelerating, as the 2016 figure was only a 5% drop on 2015.

Broadcast TV’s Days Are Numbered – Here’s The Proof

While this overall gradual decline doesn’t sound too bad, the story gets a lot worse when you break the figures down into the various age demographics.

In the last 12 months, 18 to 35 year-olds have slashed their monthly broadcast viewing hours by more than 20%. They’re switching off faster than ever, back in 2016 it was only a 15% annual decline while in 2016 it was closer to 10%.

The figures for viewers under 18 don’t look much better and the above graph, based on the industry’s own raw numbers, makes it clear that Australia’s broadcasters have a big problem on their hands.

This is the graph that Australian broadcasters don’t want to talk about and they’re deluding themselves if they think young people will suddenly flock back to traditional broadcast television once they become senior citizens.

In my home, we only ever watch live television for the sport – we rack up more hours during the three weeks of the Tour de France than the rest of the year combined. How do these figures line up with your household viewing habits? What could the broadcasters do to win you back?

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald’s home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


  • I’d argue that broadcast tv has a place but for whatever reason isn’t setup to compete in the 21st century internet boom. With foxtel taking a huge stake of the sport market and streaming services delivering on demand entertainment, one of the few areas I can see broadcast tv occupying would be to deliver US content as soon as it airs and to deliver original content. Unfortunately this costs more money than most networks want to spend

  • For me what killed my interest in broadcast tv was the heavy migration to shows targetting middle aged peopld during prime time, right now when i get home, its either cooking, renovating, some marrage crud, or some variation on a reality show.

    Im young, i want to know whats out there in the world to do, how to actually cook (not the rubbish we have now) and topics interesting to under 30’s without defaulting to school dramas, or gossip.

    Back when they where just beginning the HD rollout on digital, for 1 minute at 5pm each weekday, “10HD” showed off the technology by showing beautiful places with descriptions and nice relaxing music, I tuned in to that every single day after I got home, then one day, blip it was gone, I went searching for it, but nothing, when i spoke to freinds, about 2/3rds of them knew of it, and where sad it was gone. Things like that would be a good step in the right direction, for literally a minute of there time.

    • As a “middle aged person” the so-called reality shows shit me to tears. Most of my friends are middle aged too and they typically hate reality TV too. There are very few reality shows that are genuinely interesting and they’re steadily becoming more and more vapid… I mean GoggleBox? Why? Just why?

      Personally, I think the biggest problem I have with 90% of reality TV is manufactured drama. Take any home reno show, they can’t just renovate a house there has to be stupid challenges and I’m sure they pick contestants that will grate on each other. Same with other shows (cooking etc). But I guess they believe people wouldn’t watch if it was “normal”.

      It’s also not being helped when one of the major things I want to watch (live sport) is being bought by Pay TV. For example, next year we’ll have bugger all cricket on the TV.

      Things will only get worse with the advent of multiple streaming services (Disney, DC, etc). What is their incentive to actually let some third party show their content when they can just publish it themselves and reap all the profit?

  • Improving picture quality would be a good step forward. Our 1080i still looks dreadful. Everyone has these 4k capable displays and is limited to blurry, blocky Nokia 6210 camera quality vision. I am aware that trials have begun broadcasting the HEVC format on an existing VHF transmitter in Australia. Stay tuned.

    • Sport is the only reason i even turn FTA on. Heck, the reason i turn foxtel on is for sport. I download or stream every single movie or show i want to watch.

      • Enjoy it while it lasts. Cricket is largely moving to Pay TV soon. We already don’t get most of the NRL/AFL/Soccer broadcast on FTA and that’s likely to get worse too. 🙁

        • I wouldn’t mind paying to watch all my sports if they were all on the same subscription and had no adds. Obviously i want no adds if I’m paying for it.

          Unfortunately, foxtel lost premier league soccer and they don’t show all NBA games. You need an actual NBA season pass for that and an optus account for soccer. Meaning, Foxtel, optus, NBA pass….its all too much

          • Yeah that’s the developing problem with the fragmentation of streaming services. It’s sounds like a great plan (ie: money-maker) for the individual organisations involved – start your own service or license your content to service A not service B. Sadly it’s meaning we, the customers are faced with a multitude of paid services that all cost $10-15 a month (or more!) where we only really want one or two.

            The first company that figures out how to successfully provide a (legal) aggregated service will be on a winner. Roll up content from all the different sporting providers and movie providers and tv providers and sell it for a reasonable price.

            Netflix looked like they were going to be that company, but all the movie companies are doing their damnedest to pull that dream down 🙁

          • Or hell, embrace the idea of providing customers choice and let them “pay per view” any particular movie/show/sport at a reasonable price instead of making us buy a monthly “package” full of stuff we don’t want.

            Some possible options;

            1. Pay for a single movie/tv episode/sporting event
            2. Pay for a series of movies (think Marvel universe)/tv show (2018 Game of Thrones)/sport (all 2018 NBA games)
            3. Pay for a monthly subscription to a particular show/sport.

            If you can subscribe to say a sports channel and watch a 100 hours of sport in a month for $15 then surely 10 hours of just NBA should be worth about $1.50 and a single one hour game should be about $0.15. It’d be okay to charge a slight premium for smaller increments, so maybe make it $0.50 for a game and $3.00 for 10 games.

  • I’m just got sick and tired of the amount of ads on FTA. Couple that with all the crap “reality TV”. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I cant remember the last time I watched FTA.
    Netflix, YouTube, iView, SBS OnDemand & PSVR take up all my spare time.

  • So I thought I’d flick over to FTA it’s been a while for me and the add featuring a burnt peice of leather flying a plane to “love island” has put me off for at least another year.

  • I’m really not surprised. Standard broadcast TV in Australia is just so boring. Nothing really interests me as I get my news, movie and gaming content online when I want, not when someone decides to broadcast it at a certain time or day.

  • They need to be looking closely at the kids demographic, it may be swayed a bit by ABCKids, but my 2 preteen kids watch less than a couple of hours of TV at all each week. 99% of their viewing is on tablets, mainly YouTube. By and large, there is nothing compelling enough on FTA for them to watch, that they can’t get on YouTube.

  • I switched off standard FTA because of the inconsistencies in being able to watch a series. I grew tired of watching reruns in the place of what should have been the latest episode, or when the show was just moved because of sport.

    I didn’t mind waiting until the next week to see the current episode and didn’t need to binge watch everything, but when programming shifts all the time that was the biggest turn off.

    • I didn’t mind sports (or something important) shifting a show around a bit, but missing an episode or two is a pain in the arse. Especially in a show where there’s an ongoing story you’re trying to follow. It’s got to be the biggest selling point for on demand streaming. You get the story delivered at the pace you want and you never miss episodes.

  • For me its the ads. Even SBS has ads during shows now. They never did that when I was growing up. That coupled with the overload of reality tv which just isn’t any good, has made me hate broadcast tv. I still watch tv when I don’t want to think of what to watch. But there’s rarely anything worthwhile on.

  • Our family are now in the 18 – 35 age group and they do not watch any free to air TV.

    We are watching less and less. The more they keep doing all the shit (they know) we hate, the less we watch.

    Unless they start to see the viewers as customers, I don’t think the industry will survive the next generation. – It’s all the pirates fault. 😉

  • Blame the network for the amount of crap on TV these days. I do still watch FTA, mainly for news and the odd sitcom and Gruen. I mainly watch the catch up apps for things I am really interested in because I find the experience better than watching it broadcast where the PQ is below par on the non HD channels like 7flixs feeling like I’m back watching the VHS days.

  • I just moved house, and the new place (built about three years ago) doesn’t even have an aerial installed :/. I’ll probably leave ti that way – at least until The Block is about to air 😉

  • We have two TVs in the house – one is only really used for my two girls to watch ABC4Kids and occasionally to watch some sport or a movie on. The other isn’t even hooked up to an aerial and is only used to play video games. Pretty much all of our other content we consume comes from Netflix or Youtube.

    I’m surprised people still watch commercial TV in 2018 honestly. It needs to die. Foxtel too.

    • No it does not need to die. Not everyone has the finances to pay for or even the infrastructure to access content (streaming boxes, subscriptions, downloads etc). commercially funded FTA TV has its place and a lot of people would lose out if it were to disappear.

      Just because You or I do not watch it does not mean it needs to go away. There’s Over 24 Million people in this country. Not everyone is in the same situation.

      • What I mean by it needing to die is that the programming on it is mostly all reality TV garbage and the medium as a whole is a dated method of consuming content.

        Just look at the graphs presented in this story. You’ll see that commercial TV viewership is rapidly declining and it’s only the seniors that are keeping the numbers up. It’s going to die at the rate it’s going because nobody’s going to be watching it, unless something drastic happens.

        • One thing I do like FTA for is news. I like a concise summary of daily local and world events. Unfortunately even that is being infected by the shitty programming choices that plague other shows.

          Practically every day they advertise a few key news stories that will be in the 6pm news then they keep teasing them multiple times during the 1 hour news. It’s like watching one of the crappy reality shows where they don’t have enough content to fill their time slot so they pad it out with repeated “coming up…” previews of the content.

          Just show the damned news item once. Don’t tease it six times before each commercial break. If you don’t have enough different items to fill the hour then actually give us more coverage on the items you have.

          • Even the news delivery is dated…by the time the 5pm or 6pm news airs, I would have found out everything I need to know from the internet earlier in the day.

            That’s ignoring the fact that many people aren’t even home form work by 6pm…

          • You missed the main point – it’s a concise summary. Sure I could hunt up every news story for the day on the net, but I’d have to go looking for all the articles and I’m sure I’d miss at least some of them. It’s far easier to have the news aggregated for me.

          • I find the news to be too manipulative. Take the story title “13 year old schoolboy drowned.” Given the boys age, being a student can be assumed. Making it logically redundant. The reason “school” is in there is to paint a picture in your imagination, to manipulate your emotions in reacting to an already tragic story. I stopped watching when I realised they don’t report news accurately, they report news aggressively, and it’s to our detriment.

          • You’re right the news does manipulate emotions, realistically they’re still trying to be popular so advertisers buy ad time. But that’s the beauty of the internet. If you see an article that piques your interest (for whatever reason) you can look into it further and get a more balanced view.

            Without the consolidation of the items I’d never see most of the items. As the saying goes “you don’t know what you don’t know”. So it’s a way to get a quick overview of key points for the day.

            Sidenote: Internet “reporting” is typically biased too. It’s really hard to get a completely neutral take on anything.

  • What do they expect? They put on reality shows that were lame at best, but over the years have gone from their original cooking or renovation themes to conflict, villains and drama.
    Then the channels go and compete with each other with the same style of content rather than giving choice.
    Lastly, you have the structure of households. Many families can’t sit down and watch the same show at the same time each night like they could years ago. So if you do get hooked on one of these lame reality shows, you end up missing episodes due to work and life commitments.
    Excluding ABC, the FTA catchup/streaming services are terrible also, so this is not always an option.

  • They are doomed and I don’t care.
    No content, Advertising and I’m told where and when I can watch something? No thanks.

    I have not seen an ad for many years. I watch what I want when I want.

  • I started time-shifting all my TV viewing 25yrs ago and moved to online/subscription content when that became available. I have not watched live FTA TV at home in all that time.
    Foxtel packages lost their appeal very very quickly as they’re basically oriented to sports fans and child minders. I am not aware of any effort to mine other demographics.

    I find it very jarring to be at someone’s home and experience tv commercials or constant/repetitive news breaks.

  • I’ve been saying this for a while now. The younger generations are more interested in watching Twitch Streams or their favourite YouTube ‘star’. There is just so much content out there now with so many ways to consume it, having ads every 5 minutes on FTA doesn’t help things (though understand the business model).

    Even my parents (in their 60’s) only watch FTA for news and current affairs, then they chuck on Netflix and watch series’.

    When the advertising dollars start to move away to different platforms as viewership rises, will be interesting to see where FTA TV stands in maybe 15 years!?!?

  • why would anyone watch free to air anymore? you can watch youtube, streamio, popcorntime, etc and use the piratebay for free with no adds at the moment, with no worries if your half competent on a pc, all you need is the internet . also you can link any modern pc and tv together to enjoy all your viewing pleasure on a big screen. all of this most people have and it costs absolutely nothing to use so why would any sane person watch FTA?

  • I never comment on anything but now i find myself commenting here. If the TV networks think this is just a brief downturn in advertising, they are sorely mistaken. We are a household of 4, 2 adults and 2 kids. We now only watch FTA tv on State of Origin nights. Why would we watch it otherwise, rubbish ‘reality’ content (at a time they tell us we can watch it) and all those ads. Netflix and Youtube fills our spare time. If you have tv network shares, sell them. If you work for a network, find a job.

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