Analyzing TV viewers' search behavior, Google identified several patterns in 2010 that point to significant changes in the way they engage with online TV content, methods used to navigate TV online, and how they view content missed at airtime.
Typing "watch TV online" into the Google search bar returns more than 2.5 million results, noted Debra Schwartz, analyst for media and entertainment at Google, who wrote the white paper. Now the query returns nearly 3 million. Although Google did not validate the results, the majority of these sites link to or play content from sources like Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, or original content producers.
As networks work toward establishing online viewing standards, consumers are increasingly learning to rely on specific destinations for content at specific times of the year. Schwartz writes that Google sees hints that networks will establish content release windows similar in concept to the model that film studios use.
Google's goal is to offer additional perspective on this topic by exploring viewers' behavior throughout the TV season through search.
The findings suggest that brands don't take full advantage of spikes in online searches for broadcast TV shows, although there seems to be a correlation between the times -- before, during and after -- the show airs. While searchers show a similar level of search activity during premiere week, searches increase during both the prior and following weeks by 20% and 8%, respectively.
Do online at Hulu or Netflix and other destinations fill the gap when viewers need to catch missed shows? Google's research points to query trends that begin to shed light on this question, according to Schwartz.
Aggregators like Netflix and Hulu took share of query volume from network sites, although search patterns differed during the fall season, compared with broadcast network sites or program titles. Searches for TV titles rise the week prior to its premiere, peak premiere week and progressively slow throughout the season. Searches for network sites show a similar pattern. Knowing these trends can help brands place display and paid-search ads across engines and publisher sites.
However, the 2010 fall TV season marked a significant shift in the way consumers navigate online TV. Consumers are moving down the funnel from generic online TV searches to more specific destinations, as well as from individual network sites to aggregators.
Comparing trends for a subcategory of online TV viewing search terms (highest volume terms are 'TV online' and 'watch TV online') for the 2008, 2009, and 2010 fall TV seasons indicates that aggregate search volume is 36.6% lower in 2010 than 2009. And the 2010 search pattern illustrates less pronounced peaks and dips. Search lift at premiere week from the two weeks prior was 19% in 2008 and 17% in 2009, declining to 12% in 2010.
Looking at Hulu as a branded destination for TV content helps explain the drop in generic online TV searches. Viewers looking to watch TV online demonstrate an increase in certainty about where they get content by searching more for brand terms like "Hulu."
The increase in searches for Hulu was 1.04 times the general online TV search terms during the first seven weeks of the 2010 TV season and 3 times during premiere week.
In contrast to the growth in Hulu searches, viewers move away from navigating to the networks' sites, according to the white paper. For the first seven weeks of the TV season, searches for the five networks in aggregate fell 12.6%.