/ Technology

Are we really ditching our TVs?

Cartoon man praying over broken TV

In the technology world, and indeed the world itself, there are a few immutable truisms. One of these is that pretty much everyone has a TV. However, research in America suggests that TV ownership is dropping.

Telly market saturation hit 100% decades ago. Today, you’d probably be hard pushed to find a household with fewer than three TVs.

But hold on a cotton-picking moment – what’s this news that reaches me from across the pond?

New research from Nielsen estimates that the total number of US households with a TV will drop from 99% to 97% in the next year, marking the first such decline for 20 years.

The recession or the internet

Apparently the blame can be squarely laid on the recession. While the price of flatscreen TVs is falling, it’s the cost of pay-TV subscriptions that are switching US consumers off. Not only is the cost of cable increasing, but low-income Americans – according to the New York Times – just ‘cannot afford new digital sets and antennas’.

So are these people simply giving up on television, throwing their analogue tellies in a skip and finding more rewarding forms of entertainment? The photos of old, discarded cathode ray sets being recycled that accompany the NYT’s article might suggest so.

However, muddying the waters slightly is a debate over whether US folk are giving up their cable TV subscriptions in favour of watching telly online. They may not own TVs, but they are still consuming programmes via broadband.

TV ownership in the UK

So will this trend transfer to the UK? Well this is only anecdotal evidence, but there’s a particularly high concentration of Sky dishes attached to council estate blocks in my corner of South London, just as there’s always been.

This suggests that even when faced with a deep recession, and the choice offered by the BBC and its arguably good-value license fee, things have to get pretty bad financially for people to start abandoning their satellite subscriptions, let alone give up on television entirely.

As for me, I very nearly grew up without a TV. My father, in the 70s, thought he’d surprise his new wife with a television to fill that vacant corner of the living room. Unfortunately, when the delivery man arrived, brandishing a box, my mother sent him packing, as there seemed no place or need in her life for such a device.

It was only after he’d double-checked the address, and drawn a blank with the neighbours that she reluctantly conceded that maybe the TV was for our household after all. Thirty years later, I think she still occasionally gazes at the box, when there’s ‘something on worth watching’.

How about you? What would make you relinquish the life-enriching power of your TV?


One can certainly live without a TV feed, but to live without a screen entirely? impossible.

I lived in Holland for 1 month without a TV and in Germany for about a year. It didn’t mean I watched any less telly, I just ended up downloading the shows I wanted to watch and just streamed them from my computer to tv.

No adverts, exactly what you want to watch, it was great!

F1 and champions league I had to go to the pub though, for shame! 🙂


I agree with Dean – living without a screen would be hard, but without a TV specifically? No problem. I hadn’t had a TV since I was at Uni, but then a year ago my housemate moved in and brought one with her. I lived in a state of panicked confusion until I’d hooked it up to a computer. Watching things live still makes me feel funny – how do people put up with it? There are loads of adverts, and if you want to nip to the toilet you might miss crucial bits. It seems really old-fashioned.

I am still astounded when people spend a tonne of money on huge flatscreen TVs so they can watch things as broadcast. With iPlayer, 4od, Youtube shows, and lots of live streaming content, there is more available on the internet than you could ever watch in a lifetime.

People will never give up *watching* things – they’ll still pay their license fees and their subscriptions, they’ll just watch on something that we wouldn’t recognise as a ‘TV’ any more.


I have a very nice Samsung 3D TV, and must admit if it had not been for the 3D aspect, I doubt we would have replaced our exisiting screen, but as above, my four children have TV but use them as screens for Wii, X-Box, Playstations, and as larger monitors for their laptops, it is the multimedia aspects that people buy for and freeview and freesat just gives a bit more choice.

Sophie Gilbert says:
6 May 2011

My laptop is too small and too old and my broadband connection too ineffective at times for me to seriously consider ditching my TV. I watch live TV or on demand TV or I record programmes to watch later as appropriate. I have freeview TV through my Virgin cable set top box and I’m more than happy to pay my TV licence given the quality of the programmes we get in this country that wouldn’t be funded otherwise.


I couldn’t ditch my TV, even though I hardly ever watch TV programmes on it (I’ll be on iPlayer on my laptop thank you very much). What would I watch movies or play video games on? The screen will have to stay… but I can definitely live without watching terrestrial telly on a set.

Jo Murray says:
6 May 2011

My life is too busy to watch TV. As a result I never know what is on when and I miss all the good programmes. I prefer to live my life, read my books/newspapers when I am ready for them. A continual flow of information (interspersed by rubbish) is out of touch with my own life. How much do people want to be Passive? It is not all bread and circuses/ viewers ratings out here where I live.


The trouble with this topic is the definition of TV – if it is a self contained device only suitable to receive broadcast TV programmes – Then I’m sure the number is dropping slowly

But as most screens can display broadcast programmes then viewing of broadcast programmes hasn’t dropped. My PC screen is significantly larger than my TV – so I use the PC to view most broadcast programmes and DVD videos..


Unless I’m ill I rarely switch on the one TV in my house. Radio has more appeal and if if I want to watch TV then iPlayer is a lets me watch what I want when it is convenient. The idea of having to watch a programme when it is broadcast or to record it to view later seems very old fashioned.


one other small difference also..
Cable TV took off in the US because of poor local reception/bad free market coverage (lack of) planning. So the impact for those giving US cable up, will be much bigger.. all or (almost) nothing,
Cancelled Sky subscriptions fallback to a very wide range of free TV (Freeview plus more) for no cost .. there is relatively little in the way of cable only TV coverage areas in the UK… and certainly not no-Sky coverage areas… so the impact is less.

That said, the choice of reading/gaming/social media material on the internet, now can readily be seen to replace the talk next day about what was on the 4/5 channels last night. Especially as teh viewing is now so fragmented with choice for most.

Giving it up:
As it loses its common/everyone talks about the same programme social cohesion, it’s importance deminshes. As others have shown, a few years at college or as an expat etc, and the dependence quickly goes.. and easily is not replaced .. there is the internet and its provision of stimulation !

As a side topic,
given that the TV set is very much
– not the only place to watch TV
– not only use for this display device… (DVD, blu Ray, games , PC’s, internet directly…)
Isn’t it about time that we ditched this recording/reporting to the TV Licencing Company (!) of every sale of a TV set, or do we instead record every PC sale now.. and hound these people also ?

Surely for the small (and potetially increasing) number of people without aTV, who get regular harressment letters and later visits, we invest that wasted resource cost on paying for TV licences for these people. i.e. assume every one needs one, and just add it to the yearly bill.. the cost will then be less, and there will be no arguments and less stress.

Oh,Me ?
well I have not watched live TV since my area went digital !
..my modern estate is officially an aerial free site…
The cabled system was badly installed, has only 1 feed (no Sky+ then ! – don’t talk TIVO lifetime…) so analogue struggled, SKY worked sometimes…in some weathers..
And I cannot be bothere