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I'm a Millennial and I Love Paying for TV

Technology changes price-value relationships. Not always in linear and predictable ways.

Consider music and movies. A while ago, I thought I'd hit the jackpot by encouraging an MBA classroom discussion about the politics of intellectual property. But much to my surprise, students didn't take sides in favor or against copyright/piracy. 

Instead, they all looked at me like I look at Baby Boomers talking about 1968 counterculture. Around 2000, when I was working as a music producer while in college, copyright was deemed a terrible injustice - something that cost me many party invitations. So what has happened? 

Let's start with what my students' generation and members of my generation have in common. "Everything is online, why should I own a TV?" said one student and many members of my generation would agree. 

Millennials and gen X don't like cable. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by comScore, "18-34 year olds are 77 percent more likely than average to be a 'cord-never' household, having never subscribed to pay TV, and 67 percent more likely than average to be a 'cord cutter' household, where they once subscribed but no longer do."

However, if you think that millennials are spending their valuable time looking for the latest content illegally, on torrents and downloading platforms, think again. As I have shown in a multi-year study in the Journal of Consumer Research, the war on music downloading was largely driven by generation X consumers. Shawn Fanning was approximately my age and so were the consumers to whom downloading music through Napster, LimeWire, or Kazaar (and later movies through Megaupload) was never simply a matter of convenience. It was always also a political act (at least when having to justify oneself).

To members of my generation, "freedom" meant freedom from the three Cs: copyright, corporations, and commodification. For the millennials, "freedom" means freedom from constraining TV schedules, commercial breaks, and secondary market deadlines.

What has caused this shift?

The peer-to-peer revolution had nurtured the impression among people my age that, like all information, music and movies really "want to be free." Faced with this threatening image, the entertainment industry pre-2009 didn't hesitate to use brute force. Yet, the industry's famous cease-and-desist letters, legal maneuvers, and constraining watermarking technology had the opposite effect. They only radicalized consumers further. 

Around 2009, however, industry tactics changed. Apple's iTunes Music Store dropped DRM, other industry players followed, and radical punishment strategies gave rise to more measured responses such as educational campaigns and other forms of consumer encouragement. 

The war on music downloading shifted from a hot to a cold war. These subtle sociological marketing (rather than aggressively constraining legal or technological) efforts to reshape value perceptions tapped into a deeper level.The distinction was no longer legal/illegal but moral/immoral. Gradually, acquiescence to legal conventions about intellectual property became a matter of natural convenience and flexibility.

That's why the next generation of consumers - now my students - understand the value of legal entertainment consumption far better than members of my generation. That gen X people have grown up and are too busy (or too shy) now to look for torrents doesn't stop them from throwing the occasional Marxist hissy fit over the idea of having to pay a monthly subscription fee for a streaming service.

Today, entertainment consumption is no longer about escaping the market. Rather it is about escaping cable TV through services like Roku, Chromecast, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Who would have thought that peer-to-peer would usher in the new era of Pay-TV?

Markus Giesler

York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Canada

Markus Giesler draws on concepts from economics, technology studies, and sociology to inform his research in marketing. He determines how ideas and things (products, services, experiences, technological innovations, intellectual property, brands, etc.) are made valuable over time, with research focused on improving marketing strategy through an understanding of markets as evolving social systems. Giesler's research has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the European Research Council (ERC) and published in top-tier academic journals such as the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Marketing. Giesler has an extensive entertainment industry background. He founded his own record label at age 17 and has worked in various production and marketing responsibilities for over a decade. He lives in Toronto, Canada.