The availability of TV programming online has gone from being a nice-to-have to an expect-to-see option in the minds of most Americans, raising major implications for networks and potential new opportunities for advertisers, according to the most recent installment of an ongoing tracking study of the Internet’s effect on TV viewing. The study, Knowledge Networks’ annual “TV Web Connections” report, will be released today and shows that in the four years since their online TV viewing attitudes and behaviors have been tracked, Americans have shifted from thinking of it as a novelty to an expectation.
“I think it’s similar to what we went through with print newspapers putting stuff online,” says David Tice, director of the Home Technology Monitor at KN, and author of the new report. Tice says the dilemma for TV networks appears to be similar to the one confronting newspaper publishers whose initial freely available online content publishing models trained consumers to expect total access to their content and to get it for free. While newspaper publishers have been trying to shift their online publishing models by establishing so-called “pay walls,” Tice says the jury is still out on the success of those efforts, and that TV programmers need to pay careful attention, because the consumer backlash could be significant.
“It’s a big question for television networks,” he says, adding: “How do they monetize the digital side without cannibalizing the mother ship?”
The good news is that TV programmers seem to have strong demand from advertisers for their digital ad inventory -- and so far, reasonable acceptance from users to view it -- but the amount of ad inventory online is still a fraction of what they get with conventional television.
Tice says that in the short term, television programmers can look at online access as an opportunity to expose viewers to shows they might not have otherwise seen, so there is a promotional value. He noted that data from KN and other sources such as Nielsen show that the growth in online viewing of TV programs has not hurt conventional TV viewing levels -- and said it’s possible the online access has been a factor in that, although he said KN’s data does not explicitly show that. Nielsen, meanwhile, has begun to integrate online viewing of TV shows into its core TV ratings services, and expects the behavior to become an increasingly important factor in total TV viewing levels.
One thing that does not yet appear to be occurring due to the availability of online access to TV shows is so-called “cord-cutting,” or people cutting their conventional TV subscription services, because they can access some or all of the same content online. Tice says KN’s data indicates that there is no difference among people who watch TV online and the total population in terms of cord-cutting behavior.
Tice says online viewing tends to be a bigger factor with young adults.
He also says that mobile devices -– both smartphones and tablet computers -- increasingly are becoming a factor for viewing TV programs online, but the No. 1 source still is an Internet-connected personal computer.
The biggest developing factor, he says, is the shifts in consumer expectations surrounding social sharing. Tice says apps that enable consumers to share TV shows they are watching with friends have become a significant factor -- and that consumers increasingly expect those features too.
“That turned out to be a relatively highly used feature,” Tice says, noting: “Over half the people used it, and said it increased their involvement with the program.”
Of the features that consumers use most when watching a TV show on a network’s site, Tice says “schedule information” is still No. 1, followed by watching full episodes and watching preview clips. After that, he says, social sharing has become the biggest factor.
“The more people watch TV online, the more they want to share those programs with other people,” he says.