Dude, Where's My Audience?

It’s certainly no secret at this point, as another fall TV season is under way, that the fundamental shift in how, where and when viewers consume television programming will continue. Specifically, they no longer watch nearly as much of it while it is broadcast live.

While numbers from the major ratings firms indicate that the number of network views is declining, the reality is that the total universe of viewers has not gone down, contrary to popular belief. The good news here is, network TV is not dying. The business model is certainly changing, but content remains king.

When you look at the totality of it – meaning DVR, video-on-demand and second-screen streaming – the viewership numbers are just as big. They’re just in different places.

Television has become a very different experience in the age of video-on-demand. Even if we’re watching the same kind of content — say, 30- to 60-minute scripted dramas and comedies — we watch it differently. Even if it’s broadcast live (usually through a cable or satellite box) to our television sets, or streamed through a game console, media player, set-top box or smart TV interface to that exact same television set, that subtle difference changes everything.



With live television, we flip; with video-on-demand or streaming, we binge. This means that shows now catch and hold our attention in very different ways — not just over the commercial, but from episode to episode, season to season, and from television to videogames, Facebook, or whatever else might capture our attention on a Web-connected device.

Take for example the Netflix show "House of Cards," whichallowed viewers to binge on entire seasons of content at once, forgoing the traditional means of watching a new episode every week. Spacey even backed up Netflix’ novel distribution model by saying “we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn’t.”

The reality is, binge viewing is now officially a “thing,” as is the second screen.

The real problem here is that no one is measuring this new multichannel landscape accurately, with a measurement that takes a far more all-encompassing perspective – that is, estimated total universe, counting live views, streaming, DVR, iPad, VOD, downloads, and DVD viewership.

One of the first studies ever on this relatively new phenomenon reports that nearly two-thirds of bingers have a combination viewing style, according to video services company Piksel, which commissioned the online study. Sometimes bingers will go full marathon and watch all the episodes at once when available. At other times, they’ll “sip” and watch one to two episodes every few days.

As this sort of “gobble ’em up” style continues to take hold, it may cause a dip in live viewing. Of the respondents, only 11% watch their favorite TV shows live, while the rest rely on streaming, on-demand or DVR viewing. Recorded or on-demand is the most popular way to watch, with 57% citing those as their preferred viewing methods. 

Two-thirds said they prefer the all-at-once method Netflix has relied on with recent series such as “House of Cards,” while only 13% said they like the once-a-week release strategy of traditional TV.  

While this research is great and tells us a bit more about consumer viewing habits, it doesn’t really provide any real-time insight, since it’s all after the fact.

Advertisers, broadcast execs and content distributors need far more accurate real-time insights to help them better monetize their programs before, during and after their broadcasts.

However it shakes out, we can expect to see much more research on this and related viewing trends, especially as Netflix, Hulu and other non-broadcast content platforms continue to grow.

1 comment about "Dude, Where's My Audience?".
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  1. Alan Wolk from The Diffusion Group, October 25, 2013 at 1:31 p.m.

    Thanks for mentioning the Binge Viewing study, Michael. I agree with your assessment of the need for real time insights.

    Another intestine insight was that only 18% of respondents said they exclusively watched their favorite shows live or almost live. That may mean that as people get used to being able to watch when or where they want, live viewing is becoming much less purposeful, more of a "hey, let's see what's on"

    All the more reasons better measurement is needed.

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