There's a cultural shift taking place that may mean the end to another icon, the television set, that we thought was here to stay.
First, it was the newspapers that lost a large part of their circulation as more and more people got their news from their laptops and phones
Now, the television industry, which, in this case, means the cable industry is seeing the same trend unfold right before their eyes, and may not be able to stop the exit, either.
More Americans are spending less time with their television every year, according to several new studies. We've replaced the TV set with a computer.
There were 800,000 fewer Americans watching a TV at all by the end of 2009, according to the Convergence Consulting Group, www.convergenceonline.com, and that number is expected to double to 1.6 million fewer TV viewers by the end of 2011.
That's a small percentage of the entire viewing audience, but already 17 percent of all viewers, both traditional and computer-only, are watching some episodes of their favorite shows like "Gossip Girl," "Third Rock," or the cooking show, "Aarti's Party" on their computer. That last one is my favorite.
Most networks delay the airing of an episode for at least a day after the original broadcast on television-only, but apparently more and more viewers don't see that as a problem and are willing to wait. Several factors could be the economy and not wanting to pay an extra bill to a cable company, a lot fewer ads when the show is viewed online or being able to watch the show when it's convenient.
The fact that the reasons to permanently switch are starting to pile up is another bellwether of a new TV-less age.
The marketing research company, Morpace, www.morpace.com, found in a July survey that 52 percent of Americans are watching video of some kind on their computer or phone, rather than on their TV. The evolution of phones has even resulted in 17 percent of those viewers using their phone rather than a laptop to watch a program or a movie. If that keeps up, there could be even fewer cable customers as Americans opt to access the internet over their phone, saving even more money, than on their computers.
A new twist may also be regular programming offered on Facebook, according to Morpace. A survey in May noted that not only is one in every three hours on the internet spent at the Facebook site, but among 18 to 34 year olds, it was a whopping 38 percent. Also, those with an income of $100,000 or greater spent 39 percent of their internet time exclusively at Facebook.
Advertisers, who are spending less and less on TV ads, will go where the faces with expendable income are sitting still for a few hours. If Facebook starts to offer free episodic or movie content with a few ads sprinkled in, then Americans will start to click and watch in greater numbers.
We've already shown that we love convenience and cheap stuff. It's why we have a plethora of drive-up windows to get married, bank or buy dinner, food that needs to be fast that we didn't make and giant Wal-Mart's that have yellow happy face stickers announcing even that they rolled back their prices.
The trend toward the Internet for our viewing entertainment is good news for actors, producers and even writers, for once, because there isn't the expense of setting up a channel or the limit on the number of web sites, which means more content. There are already episodic shows, called webisodes that air only on the Internet and have devoted, large audiences.
But this could forecast a change in the way on-air news is packaged. Just like newspapers, which offered a wide variety of topics, only to watch readers run to the Internet where they could find content packaged specifically for their interests, traditional on-air news shows may find that viewers are tuning them out in favor of Internet news shows that exclude topics they don't like, such as politics or crime or even how-to segments.
It could become more difficult to reach a diverse audience in large numbers with new ideas that are more niche, or dispense information we could use but would rather not hear, like weight-loss or saving money. However, if it means that we can avoid political ads altogether, then it might just be worth it. More adventures to follow.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. Her latest book is the memoir, "A Place to Call Home." www.MarthaRandolphCarr.com. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.