Networks used to argue with considerable passion that making full episodes available online had little impact on ratings. The digital viewership was “additive,” they’d say.
Online viewers weren’t going to watch the linear broadcast anyway. Further, online availability could be a boon as people would become attracted enough to eagerly check out the on-air broadcast.
Cannibalization? No way.
But that position is receding. And, new research from GfK backs up the evolving views. The conclusion is simple: cannibalization is here.
Survey results show 33% say they watch less traditional TV with streaming options, while 24% say they watch more. GfK says networks used to gain a “net benefit” from streaming on, say, an NBC.com or CBS.com. Now, the research firm calculates it brings a “net disadvantage.”
“Online viewing has now strongly entered cannibalization levels,” GfK writes.
GfK executive David Tice points out that doesn’t mean overall TV viewing is declining. Nielsen recently released data showing women ages 18-plus watched on average of 3% more linear TV in late 2011 than the year before.
But, particular shows are finding audiences erode with other viewing opportunities and Tice said that brings into focus how to derive as much revenue from streaming as traditional viewing. GfK found 32% are visiting network sites via a mobile device.
GfK’s conclusions were derived from an annual survey conducted last year from December 5 through 14, where participants were asked questions about their media behavior since Sept. 1, 2012. The firm conducted 1,500 full interviews among Internet users in a 13-to-54 demographic.
The seventh-annual survey only covered usage of “official” network digital platforms for broadcast and cable outlets -- be they affiliated with the network itself, specific shows, etc.
The impact of cannibalization is one reason programmers are pushing for improved cross-platform measurement to get credit for smartphone, tablet and other consumption.
Even as GfK did not tiptoe around the "The Big C" (not the Showtime series) in its research, it did offer concerned networks some potentially heartening news. The firm found 16% of online video viewers say they’ve forwarded a link to an online commercial, while 20% have visited an advertiser’s site.
Also, 26% said they "typically watch" the pre-roll/mid-roll/post-roll ads. (Among a subset of avid online viewers, that number would seem low since ads generally aren't skippable with full episodes.)
Here’s a double-edged sword: GfK research indicates well over 50% do something else online as a commercial plays in a streamed episode, but they don't turn the volume off. So, while they miss the full video experience, they do hear the pitch.
Among other findings, GfK found that even with sites like TVGuide.com and Zap2It.com, network hubs continue to be a go-to place online for schedule information. There's potentially another double-edged sword there, though. The sites might generate a certain trust among consumers. However, GfK indicates many are visiting because they feel confused about shows being “moved, cancelled or put on hiatus.”
While chasing listings information is surprising, the survey's suggestion the other principal reason viewers visit an ABC.com or ComedyCentral.com is to watch a full episode is a no-brainer.
“Making that type of video available is sort of the expectation of the consumer now,” Gfk's Tice said. “You really do have to offer that. Otherwise, they’re going to have a negative impression of your network.”
Networks might have to take an image hit for a while. More and more content is behind a gate with the authentication or TV Everywhere movement. Fox, for example, doesn’t make full episodes available to those without a pay-TV subscription until eight days after broadcast.
Looking further into the GfK report, the firm explored second-screening. Some networks such as TBS with “Conan” have been launching apps that synch content appearing on a digital device with what's on TV in real time. Gfk found no more than around 15% of respondents are using the opportunities.
The GfK survey also indicated networks are becoming weaker at keeping social media users within controlled turf. In 2011, 36% of respondents said they used a social-media button on a network Web site. In 2012, the figure dropped to 27%. Certainly, it wouldn't be surprising if people are increasingly seeking out their own Facebook and Twitter experiences, rather than responding to offers of guided tours.
Still, networks might gain from that if conversations are deemed more authentic. Of course, genuine dialogue blasting a show can be trouble. That can stop viewing on any device before it starts. Forget cannibalization there.