The practice of watching television is a major part of the American lifestyle. In recent years, the cost for cable television has increased, and Americans will continue to pay for the privilege of watching the programs that they enjoy.
The landscape has grown through the expansion of cable and internet streaming services which provide the viewer with the capability to customize their television viewing habits. The cable television space has a plethora of extra specific content channels for sports, music, lifestyle, home shopping, and reality television programming.
The demographics of the country have a role in defining the largest TV markets in the US, and those markets drive the ratings to determine the programming options for the smaller markets in other regions of the country.
Some other contributing factors in shaping the size of a TV market are climate and local/regional economic issues. In areas of extreme climates either hot or cold, those factors drive residents to be indoors more than in other regions, which tends to have an effect on the consumption of televised content.
The economic factors which contribute to the size of a given television market are: high or low unemployment levels, and the types of industries or business makeup of a given city or region.
Top U.S. Television Markets
The top TV markets are well known:
- New York
- Los Angeles
- Dallas – Fort Worth
- San Francisco – Oakland- San Jose, CA
- Washington D.C.
These cities and media markets drive the advertising and the programming choices to a large degree for the rest of the United States. It is also interesting to note that while the Houston metropolitan area is the 5th largest in population, it is the 10th largest TV market (www.census.gov).
Now, this ranking for Houston could be determined by many different factors. The weather could lend itself to many outdoor activities especially during the peak TV ratings periods, commonly known as “sweeps” periods in September, February, and May.
The prevalence of outdoor activity either for work or recreation is also evidenced in the differential between Houston’s TV ranking (10th) and according to Arbitron, their radio market ranking (6th). Their radio ranking is more in line with their population ranking, and I believe it is a better measurement of the demographic factors involved in that marketplace.
In my background research for this article, I found some news stories centered on Houston remaining in the Top 10 TV markets nationally and how important that is given the reasons I detailed earlier. The city of Detroit is currently ranked 11th, and is on a population decline due to a horribly recessionary economy.
The marketing and advertising industry players located in Houston are concerned about being pushed from the Top 10 TV markets by Phoenix.
Phoenix currently sits at the 12th position in the TV markets rankings, and according to the Office of Management & Budget (O.M.B.) data, that metro area is gaining in population (up 3.26%) from 2010 to 2012, and is on a rapid growth trend.
Philadelphia – A Top 5 market
The current situation in Philadelphia is also interesting because they are currently ranked the 6th largest U.S. metro area according to the O.M.B., yet the city is ranked as the 4th largest TV market.
Furthermore, Philadelphia is the 8th ranked radio market in the U.S. (www.arbitron.com). So, the radio ranking is below their population ranking but their TV ranking is above their population ranking.
Some of this differential can be explained by the demographic areas used by both TV and radio to determine the rankings. The geographic areas are different: the TV market is drawn from a different region of suburbs surrounding the city into southern New Jersey and also includes a large portion of Delaware.
This regional area creates a 20 station TV market for Philadelphia and a large population base (www.stationindex.com). The city is also the headquarters of the cable giant, Comcast, which has recently touted the 2.1 million cable subscribers in the Philadelphia TV market (www.comcast.com).
Comcast has made it no secret that they want to be the number one cable TV provider in their own home market, so they promote their services very heavily there, and are very active in the community sponsoring a variety of charitable activities. This is a contributing factor to the size of the marketplace as well.
Conversely, the radio demographic region is drawn up differently and does not reach the same areas. It has only one station included in the radio market in Delaware, and that is in Dover (www.arbitron.com). So that explains some of the difference in those rankings.
I believe that the draw of TV in the Philadelphia market has more to do with the types of industry and commerce located there and the service industries needed to support that commerce. These jobs are around the clock, so when people get home from a long shift of difficult work, they watch TV.
The final factor in the scale of the TV market in Philadelphia is the huge viewership numbers that marketplace gets from live sports related programming.
San Francisco – The TV mammoth by the Bay
The marketplace in San Francisco is also an interesting case study in that their metro area (which includes Oakland and San Jose) is ranked 11th in population, but they are ranked as the 6th largest TV market.
Now, the factors surrounding the San Francisco market are driven by a huge number of TV station outlets (22 stations) for their population level (4.45 million as of 2012 according to the O.M.B.) and the weather is also a contributing factor to ratings there as well.
Besides the weather, the number of stations in San Francisco is based on the diverse multicultural population of that market. The high number of Hispanic and Asian residents facilitated the creation of several TV stations which have programming specifically for those audiences.
Due to the large sizes of these respective audiences, that programming also draws a very high viewership rating, and provides international companies with direct marketing opportunities via TV advertising.
The weather in San Francisco is also a contributing factor to the TV ratings there, it is famous for cool, foggy weather. It is the coolest of all major U.S. cities during the summer months of June (average temp: 68), July (average temp: 69) and August (average temp: 70).
In January, February, and March the average temperature ranges from 57 to 63. Then, the period from November to April is known as “the rainy period”, this information was all gathered courtesy of The National Weather Service and The Weather Channel (www.weather.com).
It is pretty clear, that with temperatures and conditions like that, you have many nights in that market that lend themselves to staying indoors and watching television.
Boston – A Northeast top tier market
Boston is similar to San Francisco in that it is the 10th largest metro area by population in the U.S. according to the O.M.B., but it has the 7th largest TV market. Boston is also very similar to San Francisco in total metro area population with 4.64 million based on 2012 statistics given to the O.M.B., and it also has very similar contributing factors for the size of its TV market.
Boston has 17 TV outlet stations in their respective marketplace territory, which stretches into Western Massachusetts and parts of New Hampshire. The highly diverse population also contributes to specific TV stations with multicultural programming.
The weather in Boston is also a factor in the TV viewership levels overachieving the metro areas’ respective population level. The temperatures in January (average: 35 degrees), February (38 degrees), and March (45 degrees) according to the National Weather Service, coupled with the precipitation provide ideal conditions for a market to consume broadcast television programming.
In Boston, July is the hottest month with an average temperature of 73 degrees (www.weather.com). The months of October (average temperature: 61), November (average temp: 51) and December (average temp: 41) are prime TV viewing months from the late fall until the end of the year. Now, couple that with an average of 10 days of precipitation per month in each of those 3 months and that provides an explanation for Boston having such large TV viewership numbers.
In a similar way to Philadelphia, Boston also has all of the major professional sports represented in their city, plus a vibrant college sports scene; the fans in Boston are particularly loyal, consequently driving huge ratings for live sports related televised programming.
Dallas – Fort Worth
The Dallas – Fort Worth TV market is shaped by many factors dealing with demographics, weather, and a strong economy. All of these factors combined with the appeal from a marketing and advertising perspective of having a huge cross section of people to expose to your product or service, have made this market the 5th largest TV marketplace in the country.
The ranking is in line with the population because the Dallas- Fort Worth “Metroplex” area is the 4th largest metro area in the U.S. according to the O.M.B., with a population of 6.645 million, and it also has the 6th largest economy in the U.S. as well.
Dallas has common factors to the other markets in this article which contribute to the growth of their TV marketplace. The city and metro area surrounding Dallas is very diverse, including a huge Hispanic population. The market has 18 television outlet stations with some outlets dedicated to multicultural and Hispanic programming.
Dallas also has the contributing factor of weather, except unlike the other markets focused upon in this article previously, it is weather which is too hot. Dallas has some of the hottest summer temperatures in the continental U.S. and according to the National Weather Service, it is quiet common for 70 degree days to occur throughout the winter months there as well.
The heat and humidity of those summer days’ forces people to have to remain indoors in air conditioning which strongly impacts the prevalence of consuming televised programming. This is particularly evident if you look at the May “sweeps” period, which is critically important in the television industry, and where weather can play a huge role in the viewership levels for Dallas. Those factors combine to make this market very important to advertising companies and large manufacturing companies to market products.
The final component to the growth of the Dallas- Fort Worth metro area was an unfortunate one: Hurricane Katrina. When that terrible tragedy struck New Orleans in 2005, many victims were displaced and put on buses to Dallas.
In the aftermath of the storm, those former residents of New Orleans found their homes either destroyed or their neighborhoods too drastically changed for them to return there, so aided by the strong economy in Dallas, they were able to get jobs and settle there. This migration of people caused a population surge coupled with population growth in later years due to the recessionary economy in other parts of the country.
The recession did not affect Dallas in the same way as many other regions of the country, so the city saw another influx of people from other parts of the country coming to find jobs.
They were successful in a short period of time in finding work, so those “transplants” remained in Dallas. One survey I read attributes 50% of the Dallas metro area population to being from outside of Texas. This statistical demographic measurement makes Dallas very attractive from a marketing and advertising perspective.
Rise of New Media
Any analysis of the television industry would be remiss if it did not include the current trend of new media technologies and their respective subsequent effect on the television landscape.
New media is any service which facilitates the delivery of content, in this case television programming, in an immediate “on demand” fashion directly to the consumer. That is how I would define some of these new services and products which have flooded the marketplace in recent months.
The rise of “video on demand” services through major cable television and telecom providers as well as other internet providers has created a whole new subsector of the television industry.
Some of these services are: Apple TV, Google Play, Amazon streaming video, iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Ustream, Roku, and Aereo.
The obvious reaction to some of the before mentioned services from the major television broadcast companies has been one of resistance. The most recent was a high profile lawsuit, widely reported in the media, regarding the Aereo service by the major American broadcasting companies.
A federal court, according to reports, ruled in favor of Aereo stating that the content did not violate copyright infringement laws because they were not “public performances”; the content was being provided to paying subscribers.
The decision just solidified that the television and media industry has changed dramatically and will continue to adapt in the months and years ahead. The demand for content will only continue to grow as the number of specialized outlets for that content will expand.
The growing prevalence for the ready accessibility of DVR technology forced the first changes to the Nielsen ratings system in many years (www.nielsen.com). The ratings service now uses data to incorporate the replay of a program via DVR on the same day.
The gold standard for television programming at this point is live sporting events because people can so easily access scores on their smart phones, tablets, or other devices. The need to see that sporting event live while it happens is still a huge draw, which correlates to the massive sums of money the broadcast companies are paying to the major sports leagues for the rights to that precious content.
The strongest case for the importance and relevance of sports is the huge ratings numbers that the Super Bowl has garnered in the past few years, setting ratings records for television (www.nielsen.com).
In the end, the demand will still remain for the traditional television viewing of certain programs and events. The challenge for the TV broadcasting industry will be to continue to provide content which is highly relevant in an increasingly complex world.
That will prove difficult, but not impossible, it remains to be seen how it will be implemented. However, it is clear from this analysis that Americans love watching television, and that trend will not change any time soon.