The Real Future of TV? Ask a Teen


The continually pondered future of TV will be determined largely by a sea of teenage “cord-nevers” who are taking hands-on training classes in video production, broadcasting & digital media in high school and in organizations like the Girl Scouts - not by their parents, grandparents and media conglomerate CEOs.

Immersed in hands-on courses well before high school graduation, this generation, which grew up viewing video through almost every outlet on most every device (and perhaps traditional pay TV) will take on the roles of creators and consumers that know how to make what they want to watch.

The term ‘cord-nevers’ refers to this age group, one that will likely never sign-up for traditional pay TV when they are on their own and currently only have it in their household because their parents are footing the bill, and doing the viewing.

The Kids are Alright

“In our Girl Scout video project, we learned that working with cameras is very difficult and not to go through the process quickly because the video will not come out the way you want it,” said Samantha, a 13 year-old. “It takes a ton of preparation and scripting and a ton of bloopers to get things done right.” The crew created a short movie.  “I did like it all very much.”

Ross, a 15 year-old student at Natick High School in Natick, Mass., has already completed a TV broadcasting course that he called “a fun class,” and provided valuable hands-on experience that may lead to him taking some of the school’s long list of media classes.

“We had to know how to use everything and do every job for a TV show,” explained Ross. That body of experience included, “how to use the cameras, how to fix audio and how to direct a show.”

There was a day when hands-on training with video capture was restricted to home movies and communications majors at a not-so-long list of colleges and universities. That’s thankfully changed and those teens experience with content creation and distribution will have a big say in what’s viewed and how.

Content-Driven Curriculum

A quick look at Natick High School’s Media lineup of classes shows the breadth and depth of hands-on options teenagers have access to. The list includes semester-long classes in: Video Production, TV Broadcasting, Digital Media, Web Design, iPad Publishing, Game Design and Development, Electronic Music and Intro to Animation. Each topic offers an introduction-type class as well as an advanced one.

After all, text book smarts only take you so far – not very – in a hands-on experience world.

Neither Samantha nor Ross watches, or pays, for traditional pay-TV. They access video content through Internet gaming consoles such as Xbox 360 and Wii and find their programming on Netflix, YouTube and other non-traditional outlets.

Onetime gaming-only consoles have increasingly become avenues into the home for more than games, including TV, movies, merchandise and much more. Broadband Internet access is of far higher interest for the teens that traditional pay-TV service.

Samantha and Ross’ parents are in their late 40s and early 50s and do have cable- and telco-provided pay-TV  services. They don’t, however, pay for premium channels such as HBO, nor do they subscribe to sport-specific pay-extra TV channels and packages, primarily because of the extra cost of these options.

Sam loves writing and wants to pursue Journalism while Ross is leaning toward Engineering.

Future Shock?

While proclamations, research and projections focus on what the future of TV will look like outlet-wise, precious little has focused on the likes and dislikes of those consuming video programming in that “future.” Programming going forward will crash without viewers, making it a positive trend that teens are being equipped to create the video they themselves will view in the many years ahead. In the meantime, a divide exists between teens (and other cord-nevers) and the video programming available from pay-TV providers via subscriptions.

More impactful to video providers, as a result of this stark reality is just what this demographic is willing to pay for video programming services, leaning instead towards higher-speed Internet access. Business models offered today that focus first on customer retention aren’t likely to fare well in the future.

Lower cost alternatives to traditional sources, such as $8 a month cloud TV streamer Aereo would prove preferably to cable services for over-the-air broadcast TV offerings. And over-the-top (OTT) services such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, etc., also priced rock bottom when compared to traditional pay-TV options will continue to fare well with this demographic.

Teens are far more likely to watch movies from Redbox kiosks for $1.20 a day/night or via OTT services whey they are footing the bill than to sign up for traditional pay-TV and add premium channels such as HBO that are better known and viewed for their original series than their not-so-new, months-past-cinema-debut movies.

The Bottom Line

While there’s no research or scientific evidence to support the belief that today’s video-educated teens will turn the TV industry upside down, consider the reality that this vast demographic is fast-becoming the creators of video content, not just the viewers.

Image via Shutterstock.

Armed with hands-on experience, teens have much of what they need to develop what they wish to view, and are more than well-versed on use of the devices (laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc.) they wish to view it on. Most importantly, they know what they want to pay for and what isn’t worth their money.

As I have written before: focusing first and foremost on retaining pay-TV customers (see TV Everywhere, bundling and two-year term agreements) is understandable but does not address the needs of younger demographics who are more interested in high-speed Internet than signing up for traditional TV packages. This status quo could prove shortsighted and dangerous from a business perspective.

It’s time to think about cord-nevers. Focus on Internet accessibility, affordability, mobility and apps. And if you want to know what the future of TV is, ask a teen because the future starts now.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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Founder, Fast Forward Thinking LLC

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