The New Multi-Screen Habit Of Long-Form Video Nibbling

Make no mistake. TV remains king of the video roost. But people's definition of TV, the ways they access it and even the patterns for consuming it are in radical flux. According to the latest annual Ericsson ConsumerLab TV and Media report, there is an increased reliance on streaming media for on-demand access -- and this is helping people develop a new set of place-shifting habits for nibbling at TV shows across screens and occasions without necessarily sitting through full episodes in one place.  

In an international study of over 15,000 people in 15 countries, 63% said they watch on-demand TV and video at least weekly via broadband streams, up from 61% in 2011. Meanwhile, the 47% of people who were using recorded broadcast TV in 2011 declined to 31% this year, just as the 38% of people downloading movies and TV shows two years ago plummeted to 29%.

That reliance on streaming also means discovery of multi-screen viewing is changing as are the behaviors around viewing. One respondent from Sweden made the point: “I don’t always watch content to the end. A film can last days for me.” As people move away from a single dominant device for TV, they are also moving away from the set time windows and half-hour or hour-long experiences. Likewise, people are making choices of video content sources often based on circumstance -- “for example, watching a Netflix series at lunch, but viewing YouTube while on the bus,” the study suggests.

The streaming habit is also most dramatically growing among the older demos the fastest -- so now 40% of even the 55- to-64 age segment is streaming media. The upshot of these changes is that the TV day is protracted for most people. The peaks and troughs associated with being in front of the TV set are flattening. While 85% of respondents still report watching TV at least once a week at home during prime time, 11% say they have watched it during the commute home, and 15% at work or school. Devices are also helping to keep TV/video content viewing high during late-night and in bed.

Place-shifting TV or video is also accelerating the “continue viewing” behavior where people begin an episode of content in one place and then nibble at it through one or more days across devices. Consider the possibilities for media and other marketers to service this emerging habit. Catch-ups, complementary content, and social interactions all become more valuable as the episodic TV and online video experience opens up to place-shifting and users throwing video to different places and circumstances for viewing.

Ericsson says that a couple of new trends are emerging from place-shifting and the proliferation of devices. Multiple TVs in the home are being supplanted by having a single large TV unit in a family space and mobile devices making other screens portable and more personal within the house. Likewise, we are seeing multiple video experiences happening in the same room. Some family members use headphones and view another video while maintaining physical closeness to the family watching a main screen.

Finally, the main TV is being reserved more and more for appointment viewing as less time-critical content moves to personal screen. The overall amount of time spent in front of the main TV screen declined slightly between 2012 and 2013 globally, Ericsson found. Video viewing time spent on desktop computers also shrank. But the time spent viewing video on smartphones and on tablets, while still a fraction of TV time, was up sharply year-over-year.

It would be a mistake to take this snapshot of shifting TV habits as more than a snapshot -- a moment frozen. If the study indicates anything, it is that video viewing is in flux. We don’t know what patterns of video viewing we ourselves will settle on. But surely they will be more personalized, less predictable and demanding new and much smarter forms of sponsor support.   

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