Mobile applications analytics firm Flurry Monday released new audience data pointing out that the social gaming audience on mobile devices rivals that of individual top-rated TV shows.
Flurry provided its findings in the wake of online speculation that social games have played a part in the demise of daytime television viewing. CBS in August aired the last episode of "As the World Turns," the Procter & Gamble production that has been running for more than 50 years. That followed the CBS cancellation last year of "Guiding Light," the longest-running television drama in history. Ad dollars allocated to soaps have dropped 50% since 2005, according to Flurry.
Last month, BrightRoll CEO Tod Sacerdoti wrote an article arguing that Facebook and social games like FarmVille were prime suspects in the death of soaps. He pointed out that Zynga, for instance, has 50 million users (at least 15 million of which are in the U.S.) and that most social gamers are women between the ages of 18 and 50.
That shift of that demographic toward gaming is decimating daytime, the theory goes -- along with other long-term factors like more women joining the workforce, and the emergence of the Web and DVRs.
In new data released today, Flurry highlighted data showing that social games on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch are increasingly competing for TV viewers. The firm says this category of apps attracts an audience of 19 million who spend 22 minutes a day playing games on iOS devices.
"Treated as a consumer audience, its size and reach rank somewhere between NBC's 'Sunday Night Football' and ABC's 'Dancing with the Stars,' and only 4 million viewers shy from beating the number one prime-time show on television, Fox's 'American Idol,'" stated a post Monday on the Flurry blog.
Flurry didn't break out social game usage according to time of day. But previous research indicates that app use is slightly higher on weekends than weekdays and that peak time for apps during the week is 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. If that pattern holds true for social game apps, it would suggest their use overlaps more with prime time than daytime TV.
Furthermore, people don't play social games all at the same time as they do watching TV shows (for the most part). Advertisers still have a preference for the synchronous viewing audience of TV even if the aggregate audience of apps or other digital media is as large or larger than a given TV show. That's why the Super Bowl still commands the biggest advertising bucks and Microsoft is lavishing hundreds of millions on a high-profile TV campaign to promote Windows Phone 7.
Even so, Flurry points out that in addition to drawing TV-comparable audiences, the reach of apps isn't limited by a conventional programming schedule. Apps, in effect, are an always-on medium every day, 365 days a year. "Compared to a top television series, which airs 22 episodes a season, advertisers can reach a larger consumer audience through applications 15 times more frequently," the firm noted.
Advertising in apps, of course, is still an emerging format. Apple may have pulled in $60 million in initial advertisers' commitments for iAd, making the company almost overnight a leader in mobile advertising. But that total is a rounding error compared to the estimated $70 billion spent annually on TV advertising.