CBS Audience Five Times Bigger Than Facebook

  • by , Featured Contributor, December 9, 2010
There is no question that Facebook is the hottest destination on the Web today. The site is already a fixture in the popular culture in the U.S. -- witness "The Social Network" movie, "The Facebook Effect" book by David Kirkpatrick, and the publicity surrounding Mark Zuckerberg's pledge yesterday to give the majority of his wealth to charity during his lifetime.

Facebook is also dominating the Web in a way that Google never has. While Google owns Web search, and extraordinary monetization machines in AdWords and AdSense, Google does not dominate when it comes to Web audiences' attention measured in time spent and pages viewed. In that area, Facebook rules. Facebook reportedly now represents one-fourth of all pages views on the Web. Wow!

So, the king of the Web must be the king of all media? Not so fast. Facebook is certainly a massive media property, but it's not yet ready to go toe-to-toe with major TV networks. According to comScore, Facebook attracted more than 151 million unique users in the U.S. in the month of October, and those visitors stayed on the site for more than 42 billion minutes. Nothing else on the Web comes close.



However, as I learned from David Poltrack, chief research officer of CBS, during his presentation at the UBS Media & Communication Conference, CBS attracted almost 240 million viewers in October, who spent 210 billion minutes watching CBS programming. Yes, CBS is five times bigger than Facebook. As I learned last week from Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Networks , during his presentation at the IGNITION Conference (yes, I do attend a lot of conferences): if Facebook was measured as a TV network, it would be comparable in size to PBS. PBS? Yes.

I know. I know. Facebook is growing at much faster rates than TV networks. Facebook is dynamic. Facebook is interactive. Yes, Facebook is very special. It is reshaping the Web and may reshape media and communications. However, I think it's important that we don't lose perspective of things, particularly when it comes to understanding relative scale between the old and new. China has an extraordinary, fast-growing economy, but it is still much smaller than the U.S. economy. Facebook is very, very big and growing fast, but it's still a PBS when it comes to TV network scale.

Am I being too harsh in pointing out that a site that generates one-fourth of all of the Web pages viewed in the U.S. is still only one-fifth the size of our largest TV network? What do you think?

20 comments about "CBS Audience Five Times Bigger Than Facebook".
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  1. David Cooperstein from Figurr, December 9, 2010 at 5:44 p.m.

    Hi Dave

    Great point, and clearly a defensible one at face value. But what is the comparable measure for uniques in TV? 151 *different* people (or at least different computers) logged into Facebook, and their time spent with this 'short form' media property is substantial (especially considering that viewing your wall is a single page view). Is the 240 million viewers mentioned unique viewers, or is it the same segments of society that CBS tends to attract on a repeat basis. And also keep in mind that Facebook is 500 million strong worldwide, so the US numbers to not fairly reflect the true size of this quasi-media business.

    That all said, and since Facebook is only a few years old, did the other speakers mention what they were doing to remain leaders in time spent with American eyeballs?

  2. Steve Outing from, December 9, 2010 at 5:50 p.m.

    Dave: While it's not the case in my home (thank goodness), I know that many homes have TVs running even when no one is actually watching -- i.e., it's background noise. So I question the comparison. It may be too much apples vs. oranges to come to a conclusion that "CBS is bigger." I'm sure Facebook has issues with accuracy of its minutes-spent-by-users. If I have a Facebook window open on my browser all the time, and visit it a few times a day, how is my FB time counted? And what of multitasking? TV is on but you're sitting on the couch with Facebook; how do you count that? ... I'm not at all convinced that we have the measurement tools to compare CBS vs. Facebook, so I can't take this seriously.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 9, 2010 at 6:01 p.m.

    Entertainment presented to you through any media - you are the audience. FB - the audience is talking more than they are listening and watching and reading. Values ? My huge ball of rubber bands is bigger than your diamond. Let's share.

  4. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, December 9, 2010 at 6:05 p.m.

    Dave, I have a very major security concern about Facebook. This is the B2B privacy. There is a lot of talk about the security of the consumer's privacy but none about the businesses who create websites. What if Zuckerberg decided to sell off the information from General Motors to one of the Japan automakers? I don't see any protection right now.

    In fact, I received a email from of their companies asking me to put up "their" sweepstakes. "Their" being sweeps created by their company. They said in the email that they "would not pay me but would give me free contents." What Zuckerberg people are saying is we want to get into your business and we want to know the tens of thousands of my members who are not Facebook users who enter sweeps.

    They could do the say with you or any of your clients. Is this not a story that businesses should know about?

  5. Mark Burrell from Tongal, December 9, 2010 at 6:06 p.m.

    Favorite part of this is "I learned from David Poltrack, chief research officer of CBS" Well of he said it it must be true:) Nielson's numbers are way off. They tried to bullshit people recently into thinking that DVR meant more people were watching ads. Give me a break. network tv, outside of live sports, will be gone in 10 years.

  6. Matthew Wood from Razorfish, December 9, 2010 at 6:28 p.m.

    The real point here is not that one property is "bigger" than another in terms of raw scale. ( Not even taking into account the rather questionable methodologies of both mediums measurement products! )
    What smart marketers ( and their agencies ) look at are valuable metrics such as audience compostion, engagement time and quality.

    Without trying to be trite, if a brand are looking to reach young American consumers to engage with them in a meaningful value dialogue, it's likely a Facebook centric campaign is at the root of their thinking. It has to be.

    All this said, smart marketers are looking at media mix, and proper utilization, as opposed to the "this or that" thinking the defenders of each media seem to take.

    Additionally, I wonder if the CBS researcher knows anything about the CBS Digital audience scale and composition? Maybe they should pay attention to this number, as well.

    And finally, what's wrong with PBS?? I can tell you it's on in my house whenever the TV is on, and I know we buy goods and services from marketers.

  7. Cs Weaver from Media Technology Ltd, December 9, 2010 at 6:32 p.m.

    David Poltrack is an old timer and has a perspective that has eluded many of the younger New Media analysts. He has been through many "wars" and has seen the introduction of devices such as DVR's and has smiled as analyst predictions were so way off the mark. He has also witnessed a paradoxical rise in network viewing among the relative few who do utilize DVR devices as time-shifters. So, while time-shifters no longer watch during primetime, that does not mean they do not watch primetime shows. In fact, David knows that the Top 20 network shows accounted for almost 50% of all DVR recording.

    The bottom line is that there are certain givens in domestic media and the Big Three--while losing substantial share when viewed against the 1980's--for example, are nevertheless still the big three. Television networks supply the vast majority of what most people watch domestically for a variety of reasons--lack of technical access, lack of sophistication,, procrastination, low barrier to technical entry, perceived lack of personal cost, etc. Narrowcasting has been around for thirty years and it serves its respective audience(s), but the networks still provide a service of which the Masses clearly want to partake.

    This is not to say networks are protected. It is only to say that even though students these days rarely watch TV on a TV, they still watch network shows on their computer among the many other things for which they use their computers. Facebook, Twitter, GroupOn, foursquare and other such social services are themselves narrowcasted to a subsection of an already divided populace. Television is still the great media equalizer.

    No one in media should sell the networks short. Their reach is still huge. Having said that, if the networks continue to yield ground in scripted television to the likes of TNT, in exchange for cheaper unscripted shows, then eventually there may well be a tipping point where people lose their allegiance to the networks as the social training of those who grew up with them is being supplanted by the young people of today who are less wedded to the nets.

    So, while David Poltrack is correct and makes some very good points, he should not lose perspective either. The nets have been losing too much ground to a somewhat precarious future where airwaves will not be anywhere near as vital to mass distribution as they have been in the past, and the future populace will not have the same socially-trained receptiveness to the Big Three's past "golden age of television".

  8. Jeff Messineo from Swift Media, December 9, 2010 at 6:41 p.m.

    I really like this comparison. Data can be swayed any which way but social can get blown a little out of proportion. Each has its place. The local pizza joint shouldn't be on CBS just like a BIG Company needs to adjust its view of Broadcasting vs. 1on1. I haven't had much to chew on regarding this lately and I don't think it diminishes FB's power, just helps to re-frame it. Add into the equation CBS's need to defend itself.......In the end the fight for eyeballs will have a winner and TV will have to face change. We aren't limited to 5 VHF channels anymore......

  9. Mark McLaughlin, December 9, 2010 at 7:06 p.m.

    I'm about as old school as anybody who reads mediapost could be when it comes to media research but this is a bit desperate. The CBS data is calculated using Nielsen people meters while the Facebook data is census level data.

  10. Dave Serino from Gammet Interactive, December 9, 2010 at 8:14 p.m.

    These are great figures, but can I access a highly targeted consumer on CBS for less than $1 per action? No. Can I set up a platform to reach consumers on CBS for free if they are interested? No. Can I provide a forum for my customers, advocates and users to discuss my product - all while being able to participate openly in the conversation? No.

    They are two mediums they are now intersected by our culture and online habits. Good bye CBS, hello Facebook.

  11. Chris Sanders, December 9, 2010 at 8:35 p.m.

    I love any angle that can take FB down a few notches. I think the hubris and hype far exceed their true value.

    And value is the real question. No one (yet) has bought Facebook against those metrics, nor has anyone every bought CBS relative to those metrics. It's a great shareholder value point but not one that is relevant to creating a media or marekting campaign.

    Facebook has about three products you can buy from them. CBS has 2 or 3 depending how you qualify product placement.

    Marketer's rent their audiences based on time and (technology/content) targeting slices.

    The slices/products have varying quality levels to Matt Wood's point.

    The more relvevant question that has been in the air since online video became viable from a bandwidth perspecitve is: how do we equalize these slices of time/audience so marketers can do a dollar comparison about bang-for-your-buck?

    When someone has a good epirical/mathematical model for that, please contact me and let's start a company.

  12. Mark Naples from WIT Strategy, December 9, 2010 at 8:46 p.m.

    Great column, Dave. What most of those commenting seem to miss is that you're defeating the web's seemingly best argument. You're not even making any aggressive points for broadcast, nor do you have to break a sweat getting there.

    In other words, to everyone who has commented so far, list the last five brands you recall having seen on Facebook ads. Then, try to tell advertisers that the Nielsen ratings are nonsense. Great - now how did that go for you? Did they show you any of their creative as they were nodding in agreement? Everyone knows that the emperor has no clothes, kids. What we fail to recognize is that the best thing about our primary properties still ain't all that.

  13. R.J. Lewis from e-Healthcare Solutions, LLC, December 9, 2010 at 9:18 p.m.

    So if Facebook = 25% of Web, and CBS = 5X Facebook, than CBS > Web.

    Hmmm..... If someone told me you can take "ownership" of the entire CBS network OR the entire Web tomorrow, but you must choose one. I'd still have to go with the Web. Or even half of it... (or even just Facebook). Valuations are based on growth and potential.

    Facebook + ubiquitous broadband = bye-bye CBS.

  14. R.J. Lewis from e-Healthcare Solutions, LLC, December 9, 2010 at 9:23 p.m.

    P.S. I think most major network programs today cite their facebook and/or "Follow-us on Twitter" more than they air their own logo. Maybe the valuation is based on all the free advertising the world is giving them... the paradox is they have to give it in order to REALLY connect to their audience. What a brilliant paradoxical quandary.

  15. Alex Tilt from WiPromo, December 9, 2010 at 9:45 p.m.

    Bravo. Very creative and categorically false interpretation of the aggregated monthly CBS audience - half of which we know check out at interrupted commercial time (every 10 minutes - let me see that's 4320 minutes or 72 hours per month of irrelevant pick em up or Bob's Furniture Store ads!) to engage with their refrigerator or their friends on Facebook. And as a practical matter (sorry), you might want to consider how the so-called experts value CBS (NYSE: $12.24 Billion) vs. the Zuckerberg creation ($25-100 Billion). What's in your wallet?

  16. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, December 9, 2010 at 11:50 p.m.

    I do think that total audience minutes per month is an apples to apples comparison between TV and the web. Certainly, many folks leave TV on in the background, just as many folks do email while a browser tab is opened to Facebook. Facebook is on its way to being a phenomenal media property but today, it only attracts one-fifth of the audience time of CBS. Yes. CBS's numbers were based on Nielsen. However, having spent the past two years sifting through census level set-top box data from millions of households, I know that in this case the numbers are accurate.

  17. Jaan Janes from Yieldbot, December 10, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

    Let's not overlook the facts that this is an "and" world when it comes to media consumption....people can use Facebook AND watch CBS at the same time or different times. They aren't necessarily competitors and may never be - and frankly today serve different purposes.

    Certainly media habits are changing but consumers remain interested in media and communicating through numerous channels - not just one.

    Some businesses will fade while others are born.

    It's a big world with a lot of opportunity.

    TV is here to stay for a long time and will be rooted in great programming - be it from CBS, PBS or via Netflix.

  18. Paul Cimino from Deep Data Solutions, December 10, 2010 at 10:08 a.m.

    Great post! We interactive folks have to stop drinking our own cool-aid. Yes FB a promising new communication (and marketing communication) concept but the real question of current value is not what investors are paying it's what advertisers are paying. Having lived through 1 Internet bubble and being part of what looks like a 2nd I submit that CBS, with revenue of $14 billion (1400% more than FB) is currently where CMOs are focused. To get the big ad dollars we need to do a few things: make TV is digitally addressable, unlock audience targeting (with transparency) and really nail cross channel marketing and measurement. Until then the paltry $8 billion Internet ad market (including FB) will continue to be relegated to an budget line item called "other", while CMOs focus on the Super Bowl and How I Met Your Mother.

  19. Bruce May from Bizperity, December 10, 2010 at 12:32 p.m.

    Average time spent watching TV is continuing to drop, a trend that has been going on for years, as people continue to adopt new media habits that consume more and more of their time. No one even mentioned the iPad. Finally, I have a device that is designed exclusively for media consumption, including all kinds of web portals (entertainment, news, & activities [like]), e-books, films, online video, and, oh yes, even network TV. The fracturing of the media landscape continues. Content will increasingly be produced for smaller (10,000 to 100,000) audiences with highly special interests and tighter demographics. Online ads are also going through major growing pains as they find their way through disruptive experiences but they are moving toward more effective models (as for example the new online magazine standards now being introduced). All of this increases the pressure on TV producers to keep quality up as their audiences and ad dollars continue to shrink. The plethora of poorly produced reality TV shows helps to define this decline at the same time it contributes to its further demise. Television formats will never go away, anymore than radio did when television came along. We shouldn’t forget that the first television shows began as radio shows and that art form then completely disappeared on radio. Now radio too is suffering badly from the advent of iTunes (another Apple product) and other mega changes in the music industry. These object lessons in how media is transformed by technology paint a picture for the future of TV that is becoming a reality faster than most of us may think. Network TV is not dying… it’s just transforming into something that will increasingly be seen as just a format, defining an old style art form that will be distributed in the future through various media devices that have less and less connection to transmission technologies of the twentieth century as twenty first-century transmission technologies converge into a seamless path where the media consumer will neither know or care how their content was delivered. Comparing TV and Internet audiences does little to reveal this more important, underlying story… but I love the comparison anyway because it gets us thinking more deeply about how these advertising products really work. Great article!

  20. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 10, 2010 at 6:09 p.m.

    It is really interesting and quite a learning experience reading the commentary from Dave Morgan's articles. He knows how to probe without probing.

    Next time we watch an old TV/movie with the police using a pay phone, does it make for bad entertainment experiences or do we eliminate all entertainment that corresponds to periods prior to everyday tech using?

    The part that is disturbing is the privacy issues. We will be paying for this malficence for time immemorial.

    As for measuring, getting it so perfect will trump the need for humans. Neither will happen. 2000 seems so far back in time, no? Let's stop forcing square pegs in round holes.

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