Can we not afford TVs, or do we not want TVs?

Sections: TVs, Video

submit to reddit
Image via

Image via

In the fourth quarter of 2013, nine percent fewer televisions were shipped in the U.S. than were shipped in the same quarter in 2012. That’s what respected research firm IHS Technology just reported, and I find those numbers very interesting because the reasons for them are likely not as clear as they may seem.

People are quick to blame the forever-recovering economy for the decline in TV sales. I say there are a couple more relevant factors at play here.

For one, HDTV is a mature technology. A commodity, albeit a relatively expensive commodity. The problem is that we’ve all had 10 years to buy one (or two) (or three) of them. Maybe America just doesn’t need that many more TVs. (Hence, the industry’s premature obsession with selling expensive Ultra HDTVs before Ultra HD content even exists.)

The other factor is that young people aren’t as beholden to television as Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are. Fewer and fewer youngsters are buying (or asking for) TVs for their dorm rooms or their bedrooms. They’re watching content on their smartphones, tablets, and computers. Unless they’re live sports freaks, there’s really no reason for any of them to have cable TV anymore. And they’re not going to be lining up for HDTV antennae to access local broadcast programming, either. Most of them have no idea what a broadcast network is or what “over-the-air” means. And really, it’s not terribly important that they do anymore. That knowledge is becoming more irrelevant by the day.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Ultra HD TVs, with four times the resolution of HDTVs and a true revelation when done right, will be a big hit in the marketplace, but that’s at least a year out, probably more, as Hollywood is just ramping up its production of native Ultra HD content.

slingplayer-ipadBut for now, we’ve got HDTV, and HDTV is old news. The CE industry knows it, and so do consumers. And now that we’re all waiting for Ultra HDTV to truly arrive (at least, those who even know about it and care), I’ll bet even fewer HDTVs are sold this year.

And fewer kids will be buying them. It’s an irreversible trend. In 10 years, probably sooner, we won’t even be talking about “TV” anymore. Just screens… of all shapes and sizes. The difference between a tablet and a TV will be irrelevant. Just another internet-connected screen.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

Print Friendly
  • Robert Heiblim

    What is clearly true is that home ownership penetration of HDTV is now quite high. As the working lifespan of these sets is at least 10 years, it is also clear that consumers will wait at least 6 years in general before even considering a replacement. What this means is that the current market is left to upgraders and late adopters. This is not a surprise as this had been seen before with television serially with early sets, then color, etc. It is also no surprise that the industry tries hard to overcome this with lower prices, improved performance and new features. Much of this will work, but will take time due to the fact that the main benefits of the digital transition have played out and most home now enjoy bright flat screens without ghosting or other artifacts of analog transmission. UHD sets promise more than just more resolution, but an increase in color depth that can be breathtaking. Like many things, it will take time. The economy is not helpful as it stresses the late adopters the most, but seeing strong sales of larger sets shows the appetite for television remains strong, it is just that now consumers also watch on many screens. Seems like opportunity.

  • Steve Faulkner

    Best Buy didn’t get the memo … their Q4 TV sales (units and dollars) were waaaaay up vs. LY, particularly in the more profitable extra large screen sizes (55″ & Above).