Is iTunes changing the way 20-somethings watch TV? - Macenstein

Is iTunes changing the way 20-somethings watch TV?

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

A quick look at the top TV programs sold on iTunes shows quite a disparity between America’s top shows according to Nielsen and what the average iTunes user is watching. For instance, the TV show LOST, once a media darling, has struggled this season, and often does not make it into the top 20 shows of the week. However, LOST does consistently well in the iTunes rankings, and this week occupies slots 1, 4, and 17 as of this writing. Battlestar Galactica (iTunes ranked 3, and 11) and South Park (iTunes ranked 7, 8, and 12) both fail to crack the Top 20 cable shows each week, and consistently lose out to shows such as The Fairly Odd Parents and reruns of House and Spongebob Squarepants. The FOX shows 24 (iTunes ranked 2, and 10) and Prison Break (iTunes ranked 6) do not appear in Nielsen’s Top 10 either.

So why are these shows huge hits on iTunes at $1.99 an episode when many of these shows can’t attract viewers for FREE on broadcast TV? Simple. Younger viewers, college students, largely, are finding iTunes’ “On-Demand” style of television viewing fits their hectic schedule better than appointment television. 20-year-old Jeff, a full time college student at Illinois State University, explains his situation; “Most of my friends and I actually end up waiting for the DVD box sets of a show to come out, and then we watch them in marathon sit-down sessions. We don’t have the kind of schedules where we can dedicate a specific block of time every week and say we’ll be there [to watch a show]”.

Perhaps this is the reason why so many of the highly rated shows sold on iTunes are of the LOST, Heroes, 24, and Prison Break variety, where there is one long-reaching story arc that needs to be followed. People with hectic schedules who are likely to miss an episode of such a show will be “Lost” when they try to watch the next week’s episode. By purchasing an episode on iTunes, they don’t have to be back in their dorm room at 10 PM on a Wednesday, they can watch it on the way to (or even IN) class.

“At home my parents have Tivo,” says Mark, also at Illinois. “We kind of use iTunes as a Tivo substitute here, we all put in money towards a season, and then we watch the shows together when we get a chance.”

What will be interesting to see is how the iTunes model will eventually affect these 20-somethings’ viewing habits as they get older. Software and computer makers like Apple and Microsoft constantly vie to get their products into as many school classrooms as possible, as early as possible in a child’s development. They know that the more comfortable children get using a specific brand of technology, the more likely they are to continue to seek out that familiar brand as they get older. The same thing applies to this new generation of On-Demand TV watchers. Whether through the “low-tech”method of waiting for DVD box sets to be released, or the instant gratification of the iTunes Store, it looks like viewing habits are being molded.

“Almost all of my friends have a video iPod now,” says Sara, a Sophomore at Rutgers University in NJ. “We have a thing now where each of us on our floor chooses a show we want, and then we share it. I’ve gotten used to watching shows on the tiny screen in bed or even walking between classes. It’s pretty cool.”

36 Responses to “Is iTunes changing the way 20-somethings watch TV?”
  1. Angus says:

    I think it’s time for the out-dated Nielsen system to be revamped to take into account such things as downloads and even DVD sales, somehow (not sure how that would work, as it is often months after an air-date, but maybe give series there own rating as a whole, not just per week) .I wonder if Apple will ever release specific download figures…

  2. Count Macula says:

    Um– does it work on 30 somethings too? I’ve been trying to change my viewing habits for years.

  3. Rick says:

    I wonder if this is being taken into account for those making the programming decisions. It would be somewhat sad if the most popular shows get cancelled only because Nielsen is given preeminence.

    I’m 30-something. My viewing has changed. I think I’ma lso about to make the leap and get rid of cable altogether– just buy shows I’m interested in when I feel like it. Might actually live a bit more along the way… 🙂

  4. Charles says:

    hmm… yeah I’m in the 20 something group and I kind of do watch tv that way now. Of course instead of Apple TV and iTunes I just go for a torrent and a modded xbox, but it works out great. My campus didn’t have real cable tv so the only way to watch tv was either fight the jocks for the tv, join one of the strange TV clicks on campus (the Grey’s Group, the House Alliance, etc. etc. etc.) or… give up, and download it (granted when I was in college the whole downloading TV thing off iTunes hadn’t been there, so it’s not like we had many alternatives). Of course I’ve yet to get to the Apple TV and iTunes system yet, works great for my ipod but… I am still a student, so 300 for a box that does just one thing wont work for me sadly enough

  5. Cougar says:

    I watch 3 Shows: Lost, The Daily Show, and the Colbert Report, all of which are available for free online the night after they air. I used to buy missed Lost episodes from iTunes before ABC released their shows online for free, with very few ads.

  6. Hell yes iTunes is changing the way I watch TV. I never did before. I didn’t have a TV growing up, and even when I did have access to one, I really, REALLY hated how I couldn’t choose when, where, and what I wanted to watch when I wanted to watch it, and I also REALLY hated having to sit through ads.

    iTunes offers the ability to circumvent all those failings of normal TV. So, yes, I have now been watching those shows that are actually good and that I actually enjoy.

  7. Neal says:

    iTunes and the network websites have changed things significantly for this 30-something. My first choice is still recording the shows as they happen on DVR (The DS, Colbert, Lost, 24 & Battlestar). But the other night I missed 24 because of the NCAA Finals. I figured I would have to buy the episode from iTunes. But I checked Fox’s site, watched the previous night’s episode – it was flawless, great quality and no ads. ABC has worked well for me as well. The NBC site doesn’t always work well for me, though (Mac user with a pretty high powered machine and an awesome internet connection)

    Oh, forgot about Heroes. I have purchased that from iTMS because it is on the same time as 24 and I can’t record two things at once.

    Another major change for me is watching series on DVD. I have gone through Curb Your Enthusiasm, Six Feet Under, early seasons of 24, Arrrested Development and Penn & Teller this way – Netflix is my method for those.

  8. Dave Barnes says:

    My 49-year old wife buys all the episodes of Lost. Never watches it on TV.
    She also buys all the episodes of The Office and never watches it on TV.

  9. stephen says:

    I ordered the DVD of Season 1 on Netflix. They don’t send you the miniseries which many people tell me is necessary to enjoy Season 1. i just read this article and will now order the miniseries on Itunes.

  10. Jonathan says:

    I bought a video by BT on iTunes and it was the most beautiful inspiring thing I have seen for years and I have spent time savoring it in my mind, corny as it sounds. It’s a different dynamic, the downloading thing, and so, changes the content. I guess you treat what you buy as special, and yet simple and insignificant at the same time, in that you’ll get to it when you do. It’s fascinating watching the future unfold in front of our eyes, not as a function of where the world is leading us, but as a function of who we are, as a function of what genuinely interests us, and how those two or three dynamics interplay to create someting favorable. There is nothing more accurate than accuracy and watching the iTunes #’s rank up has fascinated me since the beginning of iTunes. Apple has been collecting data on personal quality ratings and number of plays on all its hardware. I would say that alone would be worth the bank right there, a la Amazon’s recommendation assets. I bought stuff a while ago on Amazon through recommendations I never would have heard of. So, perhaps, instead of the wild wave of popularity things created before, they will create a nice relaxing blanket of abundant use and that will then reflect itself in how we behave daily, not so hectic.

  11. Greg says:

    Another example is The Office which is usually the top show the entire week after it airs, but has been on a 6 week hiatus.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I use Xbox 360 Marketplace instead. The price is the same per episode (160 Points = $2), but you get at least 640×480 video, and can delete/re-download as many times as you want after the fact for free.

    iTunes provides lower resolution and doesn’t let you re-download (asides from that one-time “re-download everything” deal Apple offers for people with fried hard drives).

    $2 per episode is a bit expensive, IMO. I only buy shows that I REALLY like (South Park). This technology will take off when, say, you can subscribe for something like $10/mo or $20/mo, and you’re allowed 10 or 20 downloads of any show you want during that month, rather than buying al-la-cart.

  13. Incorrect Assesment says:

    I think that there’s actually an incorrect assumption that it is the 20 somethings that are doing all this buying on itunes. From what I’ve seen it’s mainly people in their thirties that are making a bigger impact. They have the disposable income and have figured that it’s worth $1.99 an episode to time shift their programming. These are the same people that have tivo but want to watch their media wherever.

    Many of the 20 somethings out there know about bit torrent, usenet, and other methods of getting their media without shelling out any money. Often times because $1.99 over the couple dozen shows they might watch in a given month is outside of their budgets.

  14. Dr. Dave says:

    “why are these shows huge hits on iTunes at $1.99 an episode when many of these shows can ’t attract viewers for FREE on broadcast TV?”

    Lost, 24, Grey’s Anatomy, South Park …. these all sound like all very popular shows that broadcast for Free? What show is on that list that can’t attract viewers?

    I would say DVR has and is changing the way people watch TV, not itunes. It is pretty lame to say that the same people who illegally download music are the same people who would pay $2 to watch an episode of southpark!!! Lame…. Get a DVR – Itunes video sucks.

  15. sean says:

    Look at Firefly … it got canned by Fox and then the first season DVD set has sold very, very well. The entire broadcast industry is changing and it will be interesting to see who is quickest to adapt their business model and what new models will be created. Even more fascinating is when new shows that become hits no longer have to go through a large broadcasting company to get out to the public …

  16. Church says:

    Hell, I’m almost forty and I’ve watched BSG on iTunes since they switched to Sunday nights.

    I didn’t buy the season finale, though. iTunes didn’t have it up Monday morning, so to head off any spoilers (and that was tough enough to do before the fraking thing aired) I just grabbed it off the net. It is possible to compete with free, but you have to try.

  17. _mind says:

    *cough*. There’s more to the world than apple’s i*. Itunes may be great to write an article about because you can easily count all of the downloads, and the outrageous prices are very agreeable to these old-media types that think certain combinations of bits should have their price artificially inflated, but bittorrent is the here-and-now. Itunes is the same content cartel with a different face, and unfortunately a lot of suckers and the inept are falling for it. I’ll go get my DRM-free media from bittorrent, thank you. (In fact, I don’t have to ‘get’ it.. it’s waiting right there for me, from an RSS feed). Times change; the dinosaurs didn’t; now they’re gone.

  18. Spud says:

    I have no doubt that iTunes is having an impact. Not just iTunes but any site that has video. Times are a changing and maybe Nielsen need to update the way they do things.

  19. Kate Fitzsimons says:

    I wish Itunes had sold television episodes when I was in college two years ago! We only had one student-access television hooked up to cable and that was above the student center waaaaay on the other side of campus. Unless it was for a big show like Buffy, you had to fight for your chance at the remote, and during snowy winter nights, it was less than welcoming. $2 a pop for totally legal viewing would have been fantastic!

  20. replikhant says:

    iTunes has changed the way I watch TV. I don’t watch TV anymore, at least not as I did five years ago. The article is right on. I have no time. I get hooked on an episode, but the next week I forget to watch it again. I watch very little, probably CNN, or whatever is going on over breakfast. That is it.

    It has definitely changed how I listen to radio. I DO NOT listen to radio at all anymore. Zero. The ipod has become my perfect radio station.

  21. iTuneNube says:

    Someone must be the first to see it. iTunes is just the legal extention of online sharing, thanks to ppl who watch tv and decide to share it for free a new market will be explioted.

  22. Ted Lemon says:

    I’m 42, and my wife is 35. We don’t have cable TV, and we don’t want it. If we can hold out, we watch shows when they finally come out on DVD, but mostly we download from iTunes. There is no way in the world we would ever watch shows on cable, because of the ads – they break the narrative, and really make it not worth our time to watch a TV show.

    We pretty much never spend $1.99/episode, though – we just buy seasons. TBH I don’t know if it’ll work out cheaper or not, but it’s worth $2/episode to miss out on the ads. I just wish the video quality was better.

    Downloading the episodes free from the network actually has limited appeal; first, we don’t want *any* ads, and second, we want there to be a market for good TV shows without ads. I don’t really get what the market is for free downloads, so I don’t see it lasting – it seems like a failed experiment that doesn’t know it’s a failure yet.

  23. cuebei says:

    I am also a 30-something and after using the Apple TV with iTunes, I’m already seeing a change in my viewing habits. There are only so many hours in a day and now that I can watch video podcasts and other internet syndicated shows on my television, suddenly the broadcasters are competing with content producers that are largely unknown. One thing that the Neilson system doesn’t take into consideration is whether or not the content being viewed is actually what they WANTED to watch. I think in many situations, viewers are only watching broadcasted content because nothing else is on. By including the download numbers into a rating system, they can be absolutely certain that the viewer wanted to watch the content in the first place.

  24. Ultravphunter says:

    I use iTunes to watch The Office, since I’ve had a lot going on on my Thursday nights. I would use a bit torrent, but I find some of them a little shady sometimes and I like the video quality in the iTMS. Apart from The Office, though, I only watch television when I’m home on break, and that goes for both entertainment and news programs. I even watch the NBC Nightly News via Podcast. I find it convenient, especially since I might not be able to drop everything at 6:30 and tune in. I guess I’m just saying that I’m one of these 20-somethings that serves as evidence for this article (though I’m only 18).

  25. JK87 says:

    Who cares where shows RANK on iTunes? their numbers are so tiny, it is insigificant. It is like trying to decide if Coke or Pepsi is more popular and using only the sales of one teeny tiny mom and pop convenience store and ignoring the 99.999999999999% of other sales.

  26. Solo says:

    Newsflash: broadcast tv is not free. 20 minutes of content, 10 minutes of filler. Having 1/3 of your life filled with commercial hardly qualifies as free. Then again, it’s TV we’re talking about.

    Panem et Circenses.

  27. We just need to fundamentally re-think what exactly is television – if we download from the web a show and then upload it to a video ipod is that television, if we watch a mobisode on 24 on a cellphone is that television, or is television simply the box, the device? The idea that a faceless commissioning editor decides what we want to watch and a faceless scheduler decides when we have to watch it is bizarre, our children will laugh so hard!

  28. Ugly American says:

    If I can’t watch it on my time, I can’t watch it at all.

    Try telling a client or boss, sorry, I’m going home to watch “prime time TV” – you just can’t.

  29. bunky says:

    not itunes, but certainly downloading shows to watch when i want to. torrents are the way to go! i would pay $1 for a show, but $2 seems a bit much. if i watch 4 shows a week, that’s over $30 a month, might as well pay for cable and use the pvr. the download model will also free content creators from the 22 minute or 45 minute constraint. people don’t want to be tied to someone else’s schedule.

  30. Ziv says:

    I can’t buy the shows (I’m not in USA) so I download the prohrams through bittorrent

  31. aj says:

    Tv viewing is changing, and its a good thing. It should be more like reading a book. something you pick up and put down when you feel like. not something that is a hassle and have to schedule your day around.

  32. cal says:

    Um, how well do these shows rank on the Nielsen ratings when you take out the content that iTunes doesn’t provide? That might provide better parity than simply trying to compare two lists. As the article stated, most of the shows on iTunes list are ones with continuous plotlines so people are more likely to ensure they see every episode by whatever means they can.

    I used iTunes as a poor-man’s DVR until I got my Tivo. Now there’s always something I want to watch available.

  33. DAG says:

    1-I have an EyeTV 500 (HD) & an EyeTV EZ (SD) connected to my 20″WS Core Duo iMac and find myself rarely watching live TV. The TitanTV scheduling makes recording a snap and the EyeTV2 SW makes cutting out commercials and exporting the files to iTunes quick and easy.
    2- I have bought some shows on iTunes when I missed them on TV, but more often wait and buy the season DVDs to rip to my Mac- placed in iTunes for play in Front Row.
    3-My entire iTunes library resides on a LaCie external FireWire HD and allows me tremendous storage capacity and does not lag like a USB drive might.

    Between Front Row, EyeTV and iTunes I rarely watch live TV anymore and my iMac is my bedroom TV until I get a Core2 Duo 24″ model later this year.

  34. hourly rate says:

    if you buy an hour-long episode for $2 to get out of 16 minutes of commercials and time-shift to whenever (and on a laptop or video pod wherever) you want, you value your time at more than $7.50 an hour.

    I’m 30 something, will probably go cable free when I move in august, and just downloaded the season of FireFly from ITS.

  35. brundlefly says:

    I think it’s time we drop the age references in lifestyle articles. Honestly, we’re all in the same boat here, and there’s hardly a generation gap at all any more. A 30 something today is really not all that different from a 20 something, and a 40 something really isn’t all that much different from a 30 something – in terms of what makes us tick, anyway. In any case, I have to agree with everyone, Nielsen ratings are pretty much meaningless today. I generally wait for the dvd, rather than watch the show when it’s offered. Otherwise I just record it on my computer (which computers have been capable of for at least half a decade now) and watch it when I’ve got the time, or while working on less critical projects.

  36. I would say torrents are changing it more than itunes. If you mean later twenties than maybe, but most people in their early twenties would rather save the money and get it for free.

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