More On: What Do We Mean By 'Television'?

A few weeks ago I wrote about what I saw as the transition of the definition of “television.”  I started to think about this issue when Nielsen recently lowered its Total U.S. Universe estimate of Television households -- the second time in as many years. But is “television” -- or even “television households,” for that matter -- really best defined using a hardware-based television set definition?  And if so, shouldn't it contain all hardware platforms on which one can receive television-based content?

Not surprisingly, others in the industry are also re-examining the concept of television and what it has become in today’s several-screen media landscape. At the recent ARF 7.0 Insights conference in New York City, the definition of television was one leitmotif in the discussion of today’s media research landscape. (The other was standardized cross-platform metrics, an obvious corollary to the definition of television and a subject for a future TV Board article). 



Many prominent industry researchers attend the ARF, and their thoughts on the definition of television were varied and often conceptual. To Lyle Schwartz of GroupM, “TV is delivery of video content,” while for Jeff Boehme of Kantar, “TV is any screen.” Bruce Goerlich of Rentrak said that  “TV is episodic (content).” But for Michelle de Montigny, MetrixLab , television is “a friend. It’s a character. It is not just a screen or a picture.”

Please click here to see a short video on all of the responses collected at the ARF 7.0 conference.

One basis of general agreement was that the definition of television is no longer traditional. It is not the “TV set” hardware. To many, it is much more behavioral and/or content-driven. But if that is so, how can we collect the totality of the television universe and use it to form a universe basis for measurement?

As Tom Xenos of MediaVest so aptly said, "What's television?  That's a good question.  I know what it's not.  It's not limited to a TV set anymore.  It's not appointment viewing.  It's no longer family time.  The concept of a fall season premiere is dying off like autumn leaves.  And channel numbers only provide comfort to grandparents.  But television is constantly changing, evolving, and redefining the viewing experience, and that's the one thing that we can all count on."


5 comments about "More On: What Do We Mean By 'Television'?".
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  1. Dave Brody from Purch, June 27, 2012 at 3:17 p.m.

    This won't sit well with analytics/metrics folks, but professional creatives know and live this troublesome truth: Television is a language. Video is a related but different language. There are some (too few) videos that speak television fluently. There is some (budget-challenged) TV programming that speaks video. Viewers look to television for enlightenment and meal-portioned entertainment, but to video only for problem-solving information and snacks. Research is essentially useless unless it can hint at the viewers' perceived value. Mostly, it cannot. [Mostly it's data-babble, destined (or designed) to deceive an advertiser.

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, June 27, 2012 at 5:56 p.m.

    This won't sit well with creative folks ... but not all areas of research are about "hinting at the viewers' perceived value". As a singular example, metrics such as TV ratings are designed purely to quantify the viewing audience. Why? As a trading currency. They do not purport to be about "viewers' perceived value" - just how many viewers there were. Sure some conclusions can be drawn by temporal analyses - when you see the ratings tank quickly you can be pretty sure you have a stinker on your hands. But to conclude that "research is essentially useless unless it can hint at the viewers' perceived value" and "Mostly it's data-babble, destined (or designed) to deceive an advertiser" is a syllogism of the lowest order.

  3. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, June 28, 2012 at 5:51 p.m.

    I think this question is excellent. On the other hand, answers like the closing comment project far too far ahead. Appointment viewing is decidedly not dead - just evolving. And appointments are able to time shift. But the programming keeps the powerful draw. Unfortunately, far too many people make big money just by telling everyone TV has completely changed. So I agree with the topic - but not revolutionary theme. After all, revolutions usually replace mediocrity with the truly horrible (as has happened with print writing and articles). We should not be too quick to leap at the idea of revolution.

  4. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant:, June 29, 2012 at 8:50 a.m.

    These are all excellent insights. What I hope to achieve by this series of thought pieces is a re-evaluation of the definition of TV Universe. maybe Nielsen can begin to include a representative sample of homes with primarily second and three+ screen viewing or even some homes where there is no traditional tv set but there is viewing on these other platforms. I don't know what they represent now but I believe these homes will increase in population. And through all of this, the TV Universe is non declining. It is growing.... Perhaps more rapidly.

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, June 29, 2012 at 9:27 a.m.

    Charlene, here in Australia we are in the process of incorporating 'dual-metered' homes in our TV panels. That is, they will have TV People Meters and PC Meters as well. By the end of the year we should have 10% of all homes dual-metered. Then the next logical step is to try and include smartphone-meters and tablet-meters in those homes - but I begin to worry about compliance and panel skew issues. TV penetration is 99+% here but should it drop we would have to look at internet connected homes without a TV as another sampling target as well.

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