Online Video Is Still Hot!

One of my favorite topics to write about in this space is online video.

Back in the Paleolithic Era of the Internet -- the '90s -- when the medium and associated standards were first defined, for some reason we all decided that the Internet was like print: comprised of pages, consumed in page views (and provided by publishers.)

McLuhan said that the content of any new medium is the last medium, and of course we know now that the Internet cannot be pigeonholed into any analog analogue. I can read magazines or the paper online; I can watch TV, listen to the radio, rent a movie. (I can also go to the bank or the drugstore.)

But today I want to focus on video.

One year ago, at the ARF's Audience Measurement 3.0 conference, I presented data for online video consumption that showed pretty impressive growth over the prior year. According to comScore, in June 2008, 136 million Americans streamed at least one video; on average they spent 229 minutes with online video. Now, that time spent stat was a key measure, because while it was up 40% from the June prior (164 minutes), it was still only, let's face it, about 4 hours a month.

Since then, consumer engagement with online video has dramatically accelerated.

In June 2009, comScore reported that 157 million Americans streamed online video, an increase in reach of 15%. But the time-spent metric has increased almost twofold -- now up to 453 minutes, or over seven-and-a half hours per person per month. None of us has any extra time on our hands, and inroads in share of the consumer's media day are hard fought. So this continued growth in time spent with online video is especially noteworthy. It may also reflect the phenomenon of multitasking between TV and the Internet.

June '09 was an especially big month, hitting a record for online video in the U.S. attributable in part to major news stories like the death of Michael Jackson and the Iranian elections, both of which drove viewers online. We're showing that time spent per person was up 13% in June '09 versus May; and that the number of total persons viewing were up 4.5%. The compound metric, total time spent with online video (people times minutes per person) was up 18%. And June is a 30-day month, a factor that usually drives month-over-month data down.

Where is the growth coming from? ComScore shows time spent per person up for every discrete age cell from June '08 to June '09, and interestingly -- though perhaps not surprisingly -- the greatest increases are among the younger demographics: 2-11 (+136%); 12-17 (+102%), 18-24 (+145%), and 25-34 (+103%.) At the other end of the spectrum, even 65+ is up 27%. In both June '08 and '09, the age cells spending the most time with online video were 18-24 and 25-34; but in '08, the next-heaviest cell was 35-44, whereas in '09 the next-heaviest cell was teens 12-17. So the median age of the online viewer, at least with respect to time spent, is coming down (and no such phenomenon is underway with traditional TV.) 18-24 year-olds spent an average of 696 minutes with online video in June, or about 11.6 hours.

So what does all this mean? Two things.

Clearly it bodes well for the future of online video. More and more premium video content is moving online and attracting audiences; we see this manifest in an increase in the duration of the average video, up 26% in a year. Online video isn't just Mentos in Diet Coke (although it will always be in part about virality and democratization of content creation); increasingly, consumers are looking online for sporting events, live news, and to catch a missed episode of their favorite program. EMarketer reported that U.S. online video ad spend would hit $850 million this year, up 45% from '08 in the softest advertising economy I can recall. Because we all know that the dollars follow the viewers, and the viewers are, I daresay, literally streaming to online video.

Second, while it remains true that the tonnage of time spent with traditional modes of TV distribution (broadcast/cable) continues to dwarf time spent with online video, the online viewer is younger, more affluent, more mobile, and harder to reach than the traditional TV viewer . Some of the twentysomethings in our office even say they don't own a TV, opting instead to keep up with favorite shows via the Web, or by renting DVDs a season at a time. Savvy advertisers are already thinking about video in terms of (at least) three screens, and that's not going to change. The platforms will continue to converge and intermingle, and it won't be long before the seams between online and traditional video are as hard for the consumer to spot as the seams between broadcast and cable (which is now, for consumers, all just "TV.") Those of us in the online metrics space working on video may find ourselves back in the TV business, sooner than we think.

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