Why the internet might be the best thing that's ever happened to TV



“I wouldn’t be surprised if you look back in 20 years time and say the Internet is the best thing that ever happened to your industry”

Eric Schmidt, Google

Listening to some commentators, one might be forgiven for thinking that the internet and TV are adversaries, that media is a zero sum game, and that the internet is ‘winning’.

The data however, suggests something rather different.

TV is healthy

It might be news (or at least denied knowledge) to some, but if there’s one thing we are sure of it’s that people still love TV.

With its Convergence Panel, Nielsen has installed both the People Meter that measures TV viewing in their National People Meter panel, and also the Nielsen Online Meter used to measure Internet usage. Nielsen’s panel shows that in the first quarter of 2012, US households spent 34 hrs and 7 minutes a week watching traditional TV.

This compares with:

5hrs and 47 minutes watching timeshifted TV

4 hours and 44 minutes using the interent on a computer

40 minutes watching video on the internet

10 minutes watching video on a mobile phone

Moreover, we are spending more time than ever with television:

Eurodata TV Worldwide, which has been gathering TV ratings from all around the world for more than 18 years, demonstrates year after year that TV consumption is growing: +1 minute in 2008 on average across 76 territories surveyed in 2008.

According to Nielsen Media Research, in 2007 the average amount of TV watched by US viewers in a month was 139 hours and 25 minutes. By 2009 this had risen to 145 hours and 2 minutes. An increase of 4%.

On average UK viewers are watching 10 minutes more broadcast TV per day than they were in 1997.

Perhaps indicative of our continuing love affair with TV  is the fact that TV sets are getting bigger. According to the UK’s BARB, in 2005 just 8% were over 30”. By 2012 50% were 30”.

This should not come as a surprise. There are more means of distributing TV, more channels and arguably better content.

The internet is not killing live, linear TV

Deloitte’s 2010 Media Democracy Survey revealed that 83% of French, 74% of UK, 73% of Brazilian, 71% of Japanese, 69% of German, 61% of Canadian, and 57% of US viewers claimed to prefer watching their favourite TV shows live.

Again, this should not be entirely surprising. The pull of participating in shared viewing experiences has not disappeared. We still want to feel part of something that everybody else is engaging with. We want to be able to share and comment, rather then be left out. We are, as Mark Earls would put it, a ‘herd species’.

And thus when we look at actual time spent, we see that the vast majority of people’s TV consumption is still live:

While ownership of DVRs has reached around half of households in the UK, the amount of their viewing people actually time-shift has remained remarkably stable – about 15% of their TV time-shifted.

In that 15% of TV that is currently time-shifted, around 30% of it is still watched as though it is live. That is, the ad breaks are watched at normal speed rather than fast-forwarded.

The internet is expanding viewing

Three separate studies in 2006 showed similar results. BARB and Sky and London Business School together with ACB (through video observation of real DVR households viewing TV) demonstrated that:

Overall viewing is higher when a DVR is installed

That the majority of household viewing is of live programming

Most recorded content is watched on the day of transmission

Similarly, on-demand services such as the BBC’s iPlayer work to actually increase people’s loyalty to channels and programmes.

BBC’s iPlayer is now used by more than 10% of the UK population every week, with 573,000,000 views in the first quarter of 2012 – an increase of 24% over the previous year. And in the same period, there were 217,000,000 views of ITV Player (up 15% on the previous year), and 252,000,000 of 4oD (up 18% on the previous year).

According to Thinkbox, 78% of people who use catch up services do so to catch up or keep up with linear TV. Thus we see online viewing of TV programmes peak within a day of that programme airing on TV.

Indeed, putting old seasons of a show online can actually help with live TV ratings.

For example, after its 4th season, all the episodes of AMC’s Mad Men were put on Netflix. By the time Season Five had begun, 3.5 million people had watched Season 4 on Netflix and 800,000 had watched the entire series. The result was the two-hour premiere of Season Five, which came after a 17-month hiatus, was the most-watched episode in the series’ history, enjoying a 30% increase from the Season 4 premiere.

So the interent is encouraging us to watch more TV.

The internet is expanding consumption of advertising

While it was prophesied that DVRs would kill TV advertising, the majority of DVR homes actually watch more ads in real time than they did before they installed one.

Sky’s research for example, demonstrates that 30% of ads viewed on Sky+ are viewed live.

Moreover, there has actually been a steady increase in the average number of ads viewed per day in Sky+ households:

2006 – 35

2007 – 36

2008 – 37

2009 – 39

2010 – 44

2011 – 45

2012 – 44

Meanwhile, research conducted by Cog on behalf of Thinkbox demonstrates that the emergence of multi-screening is encouraging people to stay in the room and in so doing, expanding exposure to advertising. Thus:

81% of multi-screeners stay in the room for the ad break, versus 72% amongst non-multi-screeners

And while 29% of non-multi-screeners get up and leave the room or change the channel, during the ad break, just 19% of multi-screeners avoid the ad break

Far from pulling the rug from under advertisers, it would appear that in enabling more choice and better quality content the internet actually works to expand total TV viewing – and with it our exposure to advertising content.

The internet is co-existing with, not cannibalizing TV

Not only are we watching more TV, but as the penetration of connected devices rises, we’re also consuming more digital media, particularly via the mobile web:

According to ComScore, the average amount spent in the US on the internet was 18 hours and ten minutes. By 2009 this had increased 11% to 20 hours and 15 minutes.

Nielsen Mobile data shows us that in December 2007, on average people spent 43 minutes using the mobile web. By December 2009 this had risen 197% to 2 hours and 10 minutes.

However, if it were true that digital media were growing at the expense of television, then we would expect the heaviest users of digital media to be the lightest viewers of TV. But the data demonstrates that in fact the reality is quite the opposite.

Nielsen’s Convergence Panel data shows that heavy internet users are heavy TV viewers, and heavy TV viewers are heavy internet users:

Thus we see that the top 20% of home internet users surfed 87 minutes a day. They also watched on average 329 minutes a day of TV – 85.3 more minutes than non-internet users and 60.1 more minutes than the average home

The top 20% of TV viewers watched on average 639.4 minutes a day.They also spent on average 27.6 minutes a day on the internet at home - 8.5 more minutes the average home and  16.2 minutes more minutes a day than non-TV viewers.

Similarly, ESPN’s analysis of Knowledge Networks’ Multimedia Mentor (2009) looked at the quintiles of users by medium, and examined their average amount of time spend with other media.

Again, the finding was that heavier users of one medium tend to be heavier users of all media. For example, the heaviest user of the Internet also spends more time with each of the other mediums than the average user, and more time with media overall.

So if digital media consumption is not cannibalizing TV, what is happening?

The internet is adding a layer of interactivity to TV

The proliferation of connected devices is opening up a new behaviour – multiscreening.

And with this convergence of the TV and the internet – whether accessed through PCs, tablets or mobile – viewing experiences are becoming more interactive:

Nielsen’s Convergence Panel in the US shows that 58% of people multi-screened for at least one minute  in 4th quarter 2009.

In the UK, according to the Touchpoints4 study (2011), 23% claim to use a laptop, mobile or tablet to access the internet on a daily basis while they’re watching on TV.

TV has of course, always been a social activity.  And we continue to watch it together. In the UK the majority of TV viewing (around 70%) in the UK is shared viewing, and it appears to be growing as more viewing comes back to the main set, where of course most of the new TV technology is located.

And of course we don’t just discuss the programming. As the ethnographic footage from Thinkbox’s study ‘Screen Life: The view from the sofa’  vividly reminds us, people discuss the ads, the brands, previous experience of the products and the people in the ads. Viewing is participative - we love to share the humour, and point out our favourite ads when we watch them with others.

That said, this the proliferation of connected devices is adding another layer of sociability to TV content. We can share our opinions and comments beyond those in the room with us, and indeed with those beyond our immediate social circles. And we do this immediately, rather than wait for the water cooler moment the next day:

According to SecondSync, there are on average 750,000 tweets per day on mainstream UK TV channel

Monthly figures for Twitter posts about UKTV programmes, from April 2010 to April 2011, showed a clear upward trend with figures for April 2011 more than 200% higher than for the same month in 2010

The Touchpoints4 study shows that 9% of people in the UK claim to have interacted via social media after they’ve watched an ad.

Companion apps are facilitating this behaviour. Amongst the plethora of apps Zeebox for example, allows us to see what’s on now, what our friends are watching, what celebrities are watching, or rank shows by what others on Zeebox are watching. In addition it streams related tags linking to Wikipedia pages, songs, videos, websites, polls or to advertisers.

However, the average simultaneous user in the US spends very little engaged in multiscreen behaviour - averaging just 7.4 minutes per day. We can get over-excited about multi-screening behaviours. But the evidence suggests that it is for now at least, brief and lighweight.

The internet is adding a lean-forward layer to TV

Whether that demand is for more entertainment, more information, or actual purchase.

Research from Thinkbox reveals that 15% of people in the UK claim to have searched for requested more information on products or services online after they’ve watched an ad, while 8% claim to have bought or downloaded something after watching an ad.

Moreover, TV advertising not encourages people people to search, but appears to do so almost immediately.

For example, during NBC’s 2008 broadcast of the Beijing Olympics, Chevrolet’s Volt electric car was advertised on television for the first time. On August 8th 2008 when the ad was shown during the opening ceremonies, there was a more than a twentyfold jump in the US query volume for the phrase “Chevy Volt” on Google.com.

And of course these searches will happen even if the advertising is not actively encouraging them. For example, in response to its highly emotive (and effective) TV advertising, searches for ‘john lewis ad’ or similar vastly exceeded searches for ‘comparethemarket ad’ or similar.

The internet is expanding our media lives

However, despite the emergence and growth of multi-screening as a behaviour, the expansion of both TV and internet consumption cannot be attributed to multi-screening. For as we’ve seen, there simply is not enough simultaneous usage to account for all of the increase in the usage of all media.

While simultaneous usage is widespread (with 58% of Nielsen panelists conducting least one minute of simultaneous usage in 4th quarter 2009) the average simultaneous user spends very little time with this behavior, averaging just 7.4 minutes per day.

The conclusion must be that we are not witnessing convergence, but an expansion of our total media consumption.

And that perhaps – more that the emergence of multi-screen behaviours – represents the biggest cultural shift. For once our media time was bounded. Other than print, it was constrained by tethered devices. The TV set. the radio. We had to consume it at home.

With the explosion in mobile devices, those restrictions are evaporating. We can consume what we want, where we want, when we want.

And that perhaps demands a more rigorous, nuanced and insightful approach to content and channel strategy than simply reading the headlines in Mary Meeker’s latest report and claiming for example that just because mobiles are huge, everything we do should be “mobile first”.

Just because consumers are adopting one behaviour does not mean they are inevitably going to engage in another behaviour less. As they’re already demonstrating, people will use using different media platforms at different times and in different contexts and places for different purposes, selecting the best available device and screen for their location and needs.We’ll need to deconstruct these behaviours rather than make sweeping statements. We’ll need to be far better media anthropologists.

TV’s story is one of evolution and collaboration

Far from being eaten up by the internet, TV continues to be big, popular, enjoyed, sociable  - and as an advertising vehicle, effective:

The IPA dataBANK has shown that campaigns that include TV advertising are more likely to increase share of market (SOM) at comparable levels of share of voice (SOV) compared with campaigns that do not use TV, gaining around +2 per cent more market share.

Not only are campaigns that use TV advertising more effective, but TV is actually becoming more effective over time. The IPA dataBANK shows us that during the 1980s, campaigns that included TV produced an average market-share gain of 6%. Data available since 2000 has shown that campaigns using TV have seen an average of 8.5% growth in market share.

And TV is evolving. For the consumer, it is now both linear and non-linear.  It is becoming connected. It is becoming complemented by other screens. It’s acquiring a lean-back layer of interactivity. It’s offering new channels of sociability and conversation. It’s offering new layers of entertainment. And it’s acquiring a lean-forward layer allowing people access to satisfy immediately both their curiosity and their demand.

That said we should be careful in our predictions. Whether it’s doing the crossword or having sex, people have always done other entirely unrelated things while the TV has been on.  So we should beware lest we assume that all this multiscreen time is interacting with what’s on the TV screen. That time will include checking e-mails,  perusing our social networks, and all manner of stuff -from playing Angry Birds to anything from downloading porn to recipes – that is entirely unrelated to what’s happening on the big screen in the room.

That said, for both programme makers and advertisers, the presence of a additional screens means that new opportunities to add value are emerging – adding extra layers of content to both TV advertising and to the programming itself. During this year’s Super Bowl for example, on CokePolarBowl.com hosted within Facebook, Coca-Cola’s polar bears viewed and reacted to the game that was happening on the TV screen. 9 million people across various platforms checked in on what the polar bears were up to.

Companion apps and electronic programme guides could become a new canvas for brands.  Synchronised advertising on companion apps might complement what is being shown on the TV. Advertisers might pay to have their content appear in electronic programme guide search results.

And while the promise of addressable TV is still in its earliest stages, we can be certain that connected TVs will deliver a whole new wealth and class of data to advertisers in which social network participation, online purchases and viewing habits will give marketers insight into the lives, behaviours and preferences of consumers.

So here’s a plea. Let’s stop with calling TV ‘traditional’. It suggests a medium mired in the past, out of step with consumer’s desires and with culture more broadly.

It’s nothing of the sort. It’s proving itself enduring, compelling, innovative and embracing of evolution.

As Eric Schmidt remarked in his MacTaggart lecture at the 2011 Edinburgh TV festival:

I think we’re on the cusp of a golden age now. A vast choice, made manageable by a magical guide, ensuring there’s always something wonderful to watch. The option to sit back or lean forward, to watch alone or chat with a community of viewers.

Grasping the bigger picture

We need experts and specialists across the whole continuum of consumer interactions.

But in advocating their relevance to the tasks at hand, we really do have to stop talking as if they were in competition with each other. Worse, as if there is some kind of moral hierarchy to the touchpoints, platforms, channels and devices at our disposal.

Rather than talk in zero sum terms, we’d be well served if we spent more time thinking about how people’s choices of screen and content interact, complement and enhance each other.

Decades ago, Stephen King provided us with a vision that most of us are still struggling to live up to and fulfill properly:

Marketing companies today… recognize that rapid response in the marketplace needs to be matched with a clear strategic vision. The need for well-planned brand-building is very pressing. At the same time they see changes in ways of communicating with their more diverse audiences. They’re increasingly experimenting with non-advertising methods. Some are uneasily aware that these different methods are being managed by different people in the organisation to different principles; they may well be presenting conflicting impressions of the company and its brands. It all needs to be pulled together. I think that an increasing number of them would like some outside help in tackling these problems, and some have already demonstrated that they’re prepared to pay respectable sums for it. The job seems ideally suited to the strategic end of the best account planning skills. The question is whether these clients will want to get such help from an advertising agency.

What agencies, and the account planners in them, would have to do is above all, demonstrate that they have the breadth of vision and objectivity to do the job; apply ‘how marketing communications work’ thinking and R&D to a much wider area; probably bring in more outside talent, from marketing companies or other fields of communication; make more efforts to ‘go to the top’ in client contact (the one great advantage of the various specialists); and make sure that they get paid handsomely for the work.

So we have a choice.

We can be self-interested partisans. We can labour under or peddle the belief that media is a zero sum game. We can parrot fashionable rhetoric – “mobile first”, “TV is dead”, “advertising is the cost of a bad product.”, etc. We can claim the decline of one medium simply to sell our own area of specialism.

Or can take King’s words to heart. We can be real partners to our clients. We can stop regarding media as a zero sum game. We can bring to bear specialist perspectives and skills but couple that  with the breadth of vision our clients desire, but which their organizational structures can still make difficult to achieve.

And in as much as all creativity is born of an “and’, we can grasp the opportunities of a world that is characterized by plenitudes and ampersands.


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