Earbud Generation

The decades-long transition from home loudspeakers to earbuds as the preferred listening technology is well documented. Now we have another data point to help us examine the question of whether the same downward spiral is happening to television screens. The short answer is: Yes. The long answer is: Yes, and quickly.

You may have heard of Vevo. It is an online music-video site owned by two music industry heavyweights, Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. Also onboard the corporate gravy train is Google, and Abu Dhabi Media. Think of Vevo as a Hulu for music videos; the money comes from advertising revenue from sponsors like AT&T and McDonalds.

Apparently, times are good at Vevo. According to its CEO, Rio Caraeff, the number of music videos streamed each month has risen nearly 50% from a year ago. In real numbers, Vevo is averaging about 6 billion videos per month. That’s a lot of Justin Bieber

But here is the interesting part: about 65% of the videos are being watched on mobile phones. Speaking at the Billboard Latin Music Conference in Miami, Caraeff said, “On the global stage, it’s really all about mobile.”

Yes, the 65% statistic that leaves 35% for TVs of some sort, probably via devices such as Roku, XBox, and Apple TV. But clearly phones and tablets get the lionshare of views. Judging by the titles featured on Vevo, the site skews toward youthful viewers, not surprising considering that youth has traditionally been in the driver’s seat of music sales. That means we have a new generation of viewers who may prefer small screens over big ones.

You don’t find a lot of tower loudspeakers in living rooms anymore; that market was slowly eroded over several generations as technology permitted more mobile playback. From cabinet stereos, to portable radios, to Walkmans, to portable CD players, to iPods, to phones, we slowly moved from loudspeaker playback to headphone playback. Much handwringing has been done regarding the presumed effect on people’s appreciation of playback quality. (MP3 also plays a villainous part.)

What’s interesting is that the transition from big screens to small screens has been so startlingly fast. The technology is moving faster, and that has encouraged a faster migration. We could argue that whereas previous generations certainly aspired to big screens; our younger generations may aspire to small screens, exemplified as the latest and coolest phone.

Our viewing habits are changing as inevitably as our listening habits changed. Vevo isn’t to blame; it is just another canary in our coal mine. The big question (or maybe it’s a small question) is what this shift in viewing habits means for the future of big screens. Certainly, jackbooted thugs will not crash into your home and seize your 80 incher. Likewise, big screens will always be available. But just as earbuds doomed corporate incentive to promote audiophile formats such as DVD-Audio and SACD, will phone viewing send a chill into the development of future, bigger and better screens?

MatthewWeflen's picture

Although viewing habits are evolving, I don't think this presages an evolution in humans - we still enjoy social experiences, watching movies and television shows together on the couch or in a theater, etc.

So I imagine this reflects a certain partitioning of the market. Going forward, young people will probably enjoy certain types of media on one kind of screen, other types on another. Which does indeed seem like it should slow development progress on the one that loses market share.

At least we got up to 1080p as a standard and will probably have viable OLED soon. 4K might be a plateau for a decade or more, though. As someone who has invested heavily in Blu-Ray for my viewing, I'm pretty OK with this.

MrLarry's picture

This statistic doesn't say that people watch 65% of their video on phones, it says that 65% of Music Videos from this particular provider are served to mobile phones. There is a big difference in those statements and it is important to remember.

Music videos are, by nature, usually under 5 minutes long. Because of their length, they are smallish files which are quick to download and watch, perfect for while you are waiting for a bus or to get picked up after school etc. If you have nothing else to do you can watch a dozen music videos in the same time as a TV show episode and if your friend calls or something else comes up then you are only ever 5 minutes max from the end of of what you are doing now, perfect for the "I want it now" crowd.

There is also the issue of access to think about. Most kids don't like to watch their shows out in the lounge room where their parents can see what they are up to. They like to watch shows in private, usually in their room. Perhaps the TV they have in there is an old hand-me-down which is not connected to the internet and therefore cant stream the shows they want to watch. Or perhaps they don't have a TV in their room at all. iPads and phones are perfect to span this gap.

While it is true that the next generation are happier to watch content on smaller screens, the statistics provided in the article do not address that trend.

Markoz's picture

At least not the kind it takes to buy big screens, tower speakers, sub-woofers etc. Even if they could scrape up the funds for all that, could they find the room for it in their tiny apartments? And if they could do that, would their neighbours let them play the stuff at decent volume levels?

My daughter and her friends love to watch and listen to my system. Most of them will be 55 before they can afford one or a place to put it.

Deus02's picture

I would agree, for young people it is just a matter of economics and a kind of "ignorance is bliss" deal. Teenagers and "twenty somethings" still make up the bulk of those that attend movie theatres, hence, once they see and hear a similar experience in one's home they are blown away. The earphones and the 3 inch screen are for portability and they are cheap, not something I, personally, would even remotely consider in the movie watching realm. If the small screen streaming movie element prevails and dominates in the future as predicted, I guess the movie theatres might as well close up shop.