Traditional Television Viewing Continues To Grow

The headline of this article is not really accurate, but many will just see the headline, so I’m getting a lot of people to get the message I want them to get. It’s still more accurate than many of the articles and columns proclaiming the decline of television viewing that always surface right before (and during) the upfront buyng/selling season.

I’ve had many debates with my editor friends at both print and online outlets about their responsibility reporting dubious research claims as “fact.” 
But this is really only marginally a press problem.  As long as they have a credible source, and present the data sourced and quoted, they’re off the hook -- regarding the content of the story at least.  Working under daily deadlines, they have neither the time nor the resources to vet every claim.

They simply report what people say. I would not want the editors of MediaPost to question every research-based claim I make.  If someone has a problem with it, let them say so in the comments section, or write their own article. 



I do think, however, that reporters who have been covering this business for years shouldn’t pretend they know nothing about these topics.  When they do use some of these mediocre or agenda-based research studies, they should at least quote a more objective source within the same story (I, and several other research executives I know, would gladly offer our services in this regard).

Several years ago, my colleague, Sharianne Brill and I were co-chairs of the Council For Research Excellence’s Media Consumption and Engagement Committee. 
Along with some of the best research minds in the business (buyers, sellers, and advertisers) we helped develop the landmark Video Consumer Mapping Study

There were two tidbits that came out of this study that did not receive much press.  First, when asked about their media behavior, people dramatically overstate their online usage and understate their TV usage.

I recall after the study we asked the participants about their media behavior.  One person was asked how much time she spends on her smartphone. She thought it was at least two to three hours a day.  It was actually about 20 minutes.  And this was someone who knew we had just observed her actual media usage. People simply have no real idea about how much time per day they spend using different media devices.

The second point, which came as a surprise to me, was that Nielsen data for broad usage levels (total people, adults 18-49) was remarkably similar to the results of the observational data. This started to change as the demo groups got smaller, but for the broad categories it was spot on. 

I only bring this up because when it comes to determining whether TV viewing is shifting, I much prefer to rely on Nielsen data and its Total Audience Report than studies done by companies that benefit from people thinking TV viewing is declining, while alternate sources are growing unabated.

In reality, television viewing is down by 3% from last year, while video viewing on Internet, smartphone, and multimedia devices combined is up by 45%.  Misleading statistics considering their vastly different starting points. A more telling statistic is that 91% of all video viewing is still to traditional TV (and more than 90% of that is live viewing).

Even among the under-25 crowd, more than 80% of viewing is still to traditional television.

Another way to look at it is that viewers spend nearly 5 ½ hours per day watching television, compared to about 25 minutes per day watching video on the Internet and smartphones combined.


Television viewing, while not immune to the many other sources available to consumers, is still dominant and quite healthy thank you.


What’s the bottom line here?  When seeing headlines proclaiming or predicting the downfall of traditional television, read the entire article and note the source.



Steve Sternberg is has more then 30 years of television and video analysis experience, having held top research posts at Bozell, TN Media, Magna Global, and ION Media Networks.

14 comments about "Traditional Television Viewing Continues To Grow".
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  1. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, April 20, 2015 at 10:47 a.m.

    This is an excellent article, Steve, and I've often used this argument... and some other ones, when consulting with my clients. The problem is that people equate both percentages so that, when they read 45% of mobile and 3% of television, they think that both are comparable and not realize that they refer to hugely different bases.

    Now, 3% of all TV viewing is inmense, to be sure. And, honestly, if I had a dollar for every person on that 3%, I wouldn't even be bothering with this. I would be retired in Ibiza.

    But perspective is important, when 90% --and even when it eventually falls to 85%-- of your viewing comes from TV you can't ignore it.

  2. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, April 20, 2015 at 11:16 a.m.

    Thank goodness for Steve Sternberg and my old BBDO boss ('67-'69) Ed Papazian for conitnuing to fulfill the truth telling function that so many agency folk seem to have let wither as they pursue the "new and exciting." Especially sad given the multitude of hardly objective sellers buzzing around the do-re-mi.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 20, 2015 at 1:46 p.m.

    @David, was it that long ago? Sometimes I feel like I belong in a museum....but there are lots of interesting things in museums, aren't there? Anyway, thanks for your comment.

  4. Jon Currie from Currie Communications, Inc., April 20, 2015 at 2:28 p.m.

    Thanks Steve, for bringing a much-needed reality check into our business.

  5. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, April 21, 2015 at 11:59 a.m.

    Best in class data, reviewed by a best in class analyst.  Yes, Ad supported TV viewing is down, but what is replacing it to generate reach, even among young tech savvy consumers?  Nielsen's Total Audience Report shows that even the heaviest streamers watch far more TV than online video.

  6. Claudio Marcus from FreeWheel, April 21, 2015 at 4:25 p.m.

    Excellent article and observations. As a former industry analyst, I am amazed by how many trade press articles run and even dramatize stories based on poorly constructed, mediocre, and/or agenda-biased research studies (with selective results interpretation or communication). I commend you for bringing attention to this serious matter and agree that articles featuring research results ought to at at least seek more objective opinions and include them within the same story. 

  7. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, April 22, 2015 at 10:37 a.m.

    Here here or hear hear.  Surveys on media usage among small samples are today's version of yesterday's "mother in law" focus groups.  Not valid for vast quantitative analysis or projections. Rarely do the survey "facts" bear out among more rigorous captured behavior measures.  Feh. 

  8. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, April 22, 2015 at 11:53 a.m.

    Sternberg's the Real Deal, so I don't dispute what he writes here, but I have no idea who these people actually ARE still watching "traditional television." Admittedly, the crowd I run with and know best are early adapters and digital pioneering types on the two coasts, but almost zero of the young people I interact with have cable or satellite, don't watch broadcast TV and stream and/or steal their video entertainment. Admittedly, there's a whole lot of America in between the coasts, but even my 70-something mom in the Deep South uses Netflix and her Roku as much as her cable system now. 

  9. Kathy Newberger from TBD, April 22, 2015 at 2:23 p.m.

    Thank you, Steve! Way to make a point.

  10. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 22, 2015 at 4:20 p.m.

    @Tom, a lot of people claim that they never watch "traditional" or "linear" television, but are they really referring to all of the content put out by the broadcast networks, the stations or basic cable or just the broadcast networks' primetime fare? In my case, I rarely, if ever, watch the latter, but I'll certainly take in a major network sports feature or a bit of local news or a syndicated rerun of "Seinfeld" on an independent outlet, and plenty of cable stuff----documentaries, cooking shows, a fair dosage of news/commentary, plenty of old TV staples like "Gunsmoke" and "Wanted, Dead Or Alive", etc. many movies and lots of sports. So am I a "traditional" TV viewer? The answer is yes, but not in the traditional way, which once had me devoting the majority of my time to shows provided by ABC, CBS and NBC---particularily in rhe evenings.

  11. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 22, 2015 at 8:25 p.m.

    Thank God for your good work, Steve.  
    You deserve all the praise that's come your way -- and more. Today, "Variety" ran an absurd story by Todd Spangler citing a "Study" by Deloitte.

    Variety APRIL 22, 2015 | 05:21AM PT
    "Streaming Overtakes Live TV Among Consumer Viewing Preferences: Study" 

    NY Digital Editor@xpangler

    S I think Todd got up too early this morning!

  12. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, April 23, 2015 at 4:11 p.m.

    Thanks everyone for your kind words.  This has been an ongoing problem for years.  Maybe I'll start a company to evaluate research studies and services.  Think anyone will pay me for something like that? :-)

  13. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 23, 2015 at 4:42 p.m.

    Steve, to answer your last question----probably not. After all they get it free on Media Post.

  14. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 23, 2015 at 5:08 p.m.

    Dear Steve,

    I concur with Ed's conclusion.  Sadly, the answer is "No."

    However, I do not believe the cause is your generosity or MediaPost's.

    I believe that Management Consulting Firms have shrewdly turned their products and services into what certain Economists have referred to as Giffen Goods.  Investopedia explains the phenomenon this way: “A good for which demand increases as the price increases, and falls when the price decreases.”

    “A Giffen good has an upward-sloping demand curve, which is contrary to the fundamental law of demand which states that quantity demanded for a product falls as the price increases, resulting in a downward slope for the demand curve.

    A Giffen good is typically an inferior product that does not have easily available substitutes, as a result of which the income effect dominates the substitution effect.

    Giffen goods are quite rare, to the extent that there is some debate about their actual existence.

    The term is named after the Economist Robert Giffen.”

    Hence, one answer to this frustration is to refer to media research that passes methodological muster as SternbergGood or Papazian Good.




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