Researchers Surprised Gaming Consoles Offer Significant Video Portal

ABC researcher Pat Liguori was taken aback recently when she checked out an assisted living facility for a relative and discovered what residents can use for exercise. There was a large flat-screen for activity via a Nintendo Wii.

It was one sign of just how much gaming consoles are spreading. While the Wii doesn’t facilitate much streaming video – it offers access to Netflix and Hulu Plus – gaming devices are offering more and more viewing options. The Microsoft Xbox is a pacesetter providing access to authenticated VOD content from a slew of networks in addition to live feeds from ESPN and other outlets.

A new report from the Council for Research Excellence (CRE) cites data showing 56% of U.S. homes have a gaming console. The implication is the devices may be increasingly used for over-the-top (OTT) TV viewing.

Liguori, a senior vice president who leads research for ABC’s owned stations, oversaw the study as chair of the CRE’s Return Path Measurement Committee. She said the potential for gaming consoles to drive so much OTT viewing was a wake-up call for the committee, which may have been too focused on other platforms such as Apple TVs or Rokus.

“It’s something that was in front of us that, you know, we never saw,” Liguori said.

But nearly six in 10 U.S. homes with an Xbox, Wii, Sony PlayStation or other gaming console seems rather high, no? (And, the figure -- a Nielsen statistic -- is likely to go up after Dec. 25.)

After some reflection, Liguori offered two reasons why: the consoles have multiple purposes and users reared with them are now buyers. Plus, Microsoft is looking to turn the Xbox into a full entertainment suite.

Nielsen conducts some gaming-console measurement, but Liguori said the CRE committee will work to ensure tracking is extensive. Programmers want to be compensated for their content no matter where it’s consumed, so a need to push for metrics in unexpected venues has been one takeaway from the study. The industry needs to stay ahead of the viewer, if possible.

“We have to be more open to the consideration of things that might not be as obvious (in) contributing to tune in … everyone was so excited about the OTT devices and there was very little attention paid to gaming devices, so what else is out there?” Liguori said.

The 15-member committee within the Nielsen-funded CRE includes Turner’s Susan Nathan, TargetCast tcm’s Michele Buslick and Media Rating Council chief George Ivie. The study was conducted by the One Touch Intelligence firm and designed, in part, to offer insight into the OTT landscape.

The study also focused on the role smart TVs and Blu-ray players may play in delivering video via a broadband pipe. (The report cites estimates of 12 million smart TVs hooked up to the Web and 15 million Blu-ray players.)

Content accessible through those platforms varies greatly by manufacturer, but leans in the direction of the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu Plus -- rather than ABC or Food Network. Still, like an arrangement with Microsoft for Xbox delivery, Verizon FiOS customers can access 26 live channels via an app on a Samsung smart TV or Blu-ray player.

The FiOS system can work without a set-top box (STB), which hits on challenges in measuring all types of OTT viewing. Researchers are increasingly interested in the granular measurement coming from the STBs. But if OTT systems run without them, it could be tough to get data -- something on Liguori's radar.

If "functionality of the set-top box is transferred to the cloud, we have to be certain that the information that set-top boxes currently capture … is also captured in the cloud or whatever the future brings,” she said.

Of course, while gaming consoles may be overlooked as OTT platforms, tablets and smartphones aren’t. And, those are areas where Nielsen may be trailing consumer adoption; it's building measurement systems in those spaces.

Tablets are “perfect" for viewing, Liguori said, "the screen is large enough to enjoy video content, yet small enough to be personal,” while a “smartphone is a little bit too small to want to sit and watch a two-hour movie.”

Of course, the CRE study didn’t address all places video is appearing. But the group doesn’t want to get caught flat-footed, losing an opportunity to follow the video and track it.

“We need to be out looking at where the next screen turns up,” Liguori said. “Obviously, they’re on refrigerators, when do we start measuring them?”

She'd probably say now -- there's no time to chill.

Tags: television
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