The Millenial Subscriber

Rather than try to bring in to the discussion a wide range of statistics on the millennial subscriber, statistics that invariably support the main sponsors worldview and defend their strategies, I am going to write here about the millennial from my own viewpoint.

I am an early adopter. I was online before the web was invented, and I was conversant with most of the device technologies as they emerged. So I am a digital native, although right at the very front of that wave, and I have a complete understanding of what came before. My parents, and to some extent my wife, had to learn how to use the web and email (etc.) rather than evolving with mail clients and browsers as they emerged from first principles. For me, this is mother tongue stuff rather than an acquired skill.

For nearly everyone younger than me, by the time they had access to a computer, it was online. That's what computers do isn't it? They provide access to the Internet?

However, for some of my peers and all of the generation before me, the Internet was something that you might consider adding to your computer. The computer was a glorified typewriter, with a few other bells and whistles.

Now I look at my daughter, born just when the iPad and Netflix were, and my son, who was born entirely into a smart TV chord-cut “connected” home, and I cannot imagine their general routine without hopping devices connected to what they want to be connected to.

It took longer to explain why they couldn't carry on streaming films to the iPad when we took it in the car, and away from WiFi, than it did for them to learn to use the device. This expectation is native to them. I fear a little for what they would do if the Internet simply weren't there. But we could say the same for currency, police, and roads, so we simply all normalize to it.

So I struggle with the (fortunately) increasingly few people who somehow think that the millennial will take out subscriptions to content packages, and to infrastructure services that tie them to a specific location. I honestly think that my daughter will be confused, as she moves into her student halls or first home (probably in a decade's time I hasten to add!) and she is approached for a fixed-line broadband service, and a cable or satellite service attached to the wall. In fact I am so sure her generation will not take out traditional cable or satellite (CabSat) services that I have a public bet with the head of the UK Digital Terrestrial Television Group, Richard Lindsay-Davis, that I will eat a cable or satellite Set-Top Box if my daughter has one installed in her home as an adult!

Obviously this anecdote is intended to amuse. But I also want to make the traditional operators think. While their annual growth of subscribers has traditionally been tied to factors such as new homeowners, students moving into the housing/rental market, in just a few years, all those new homeowners and students will most likely have a 4g or 5g mobile service and a couple of OTT subscriptions. They will be using technology like Apple's Airplay to forward the streams to specific larger displays.

This will cause a complete collapse in growth for the traditional networks, and as the older customers churn the operators will need to move to the OTT world with them, or face diminishing returns, or worse, collapse.

I have heard very strongly traditional broadcast consultancies try to brush off the millennial as “just a small trend” or “still insignificant" In polite company I would call that view optimistic. The reality is that impact will hit very hard as the first millennial school leavers come of age and take up their homes over the next three to five years, literally shelving the growth rates for these traditional subscriber networks.

The good news for streaming and CDN architects is that this means our technology will finally come of age.

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