And here's another good reason for TV networks to dislike the Internet: they just don't get a fraction of the attention here that they do on their native platform. In a roundup of traffic metrics to the major nets this past year, Compete shows that the average unique user spend about half an hour at a network site each month. Compare that to the 34+ hours per person per week Nielsen says Americans watched traditional TV in 2010.
ABC.com maintains the most consistent lead in unique viewers month to month. With peaks of about 8 million visitors in the May, November and March months, it is challenged only on occasion by CBS.com and rarely by regular third-place runner NBC.com. Presumably these numbers reflect mainly traffic to the core network URL and not the massive waves of March Madness activity that comes CBS Sports' way each year. That said, the fight for viewers online came close to a dead heat in the fall show rollout last year.
Compete calculates that reality shows and their finales can drive sizable spikes. In May NBC made an especially strong showing as people flicked online to see clips and auditions for "The Voice" (+49% month-over-month in visitors to the show site) but also for "Celebrity Apprentice" (+222%). As The Donald would say, his finale was huge...huge!
Despite ABC's higher audience reach, CBS tends to hold its online viewers longer each month, but still peaks at 35 minutes total for the month. There's no secret why ABC and CBS would have longer hang times: both networks encourage full episode viewing prominently on their front pages. ABC has an especially good video player interface just for navigating and playing back the current library, and CBS features the latest episodes (albeit a less compelling collection) above the fold. NBC's catalog of back episodes online frankly looks like a poorly polished e-commerce site circa 2003. Things get better once you find your way to dedicated show sites, but unlike ABC. there seems to be little encouragement to use the site as a DVR.
In fact even a cursory glance at any of the network sites suggests the ongoing inner conflict over how much the web is or is not a threat to their core businesses. None of them seem clear about what they most want to do online: promote on-air broadcasts, engage viewers in enhancements of the viewing experience, or let them play catch-up with episodes.