TV Might Be Everywhere -- But Viewers Aren't

Throughout the history of television measurement, there was a certain level of cohesion when it came to media access and device ownership.  From the inception of television itself, through the introduction of cable, through the development of VCRs and DVRs, almost everyone eventually got almost everything.This made measuring who was using each medium and device (although not necessarily how they were using them), relatively simple.

Today’s media world is much more splintered.  

The percentage of U.S. homes with DVRs has been hovering around 50% for several years.  It may never hit 60%. People with multimedia devices are using them more and more, but these devices are also still in less than one-quarter of homes (as are enabled smart TVs).  Subscription video-on-demand has been growing, and stands at 50% penetration for the first time.  But this too may never go much past 60% penetration.

In short, everyone doesn’t get everything anymore.  And as more and more formats become available over the next few years, even fewer people will get everything, or even most things.



What does this mean?  Well, television might be available everywhere, but the same viewers aren’t. Some are here, some are there, some are over there.  Previous methods of drawing samples might need to be revisited, not to mention ways to evaluate media usage even among standard demographic age groups. Consumers whose media usage was once relatively similar if they were in the same few demographic categories may no longer be as cohesive as we think.  Large groups of broadly similar consumers now get their video content in substantially different ways.  

Some things worth considering:

-- Television is a fundamentally different medium to DVR owners than to viewers without DVRs, even when both groups are watching live TV.  But I have seen precious little research even attempting to understand the differences.  

-- What is the difference between the viewer who has half of her ad-supported television viewing on DVR and watches much of her prime-time programming after 11 p.m., and her demographically similar counterpart who watches the same programming on live TV during prime time?

-- How are 25-year-olds who watch a lot of traditional television different from those who watch much of their TV content online or on multimedia devices?

-- How is the Adult 25-54 viewer who watches 10 hours a week of “The Big Bang Theory” on TBS or “Criminal Minds” on ION different from the same type of Adult 25-54 viewer who watches 10 different programs on multiple networks over the same 10-hour period?

-- What are the difference between Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime viewers compared to one another, as well as those who subscribe to more than one of them?

-- Are viewers who can be reached over and over again on the same network any different from viewers who can only be effectively reached via multiple venues?  Do they relate to advertising differently?  Is advertising wear-out completely different for each group?  

We can speculate on these things, but this is where research needs to go now.  

We can’t continue to simply lump people with dramatically different media access and viewing habits into standard traditional demographic categories.  You will get answers, but they will often be less meaningful averages that miss what real folks are actually doing.

In the olden days of television measurement (pre-2007), I believed single-source measurement was the way to go.  Now I do not think one company can or should be the gold standard for all-platform measurement. Change is happening too quickly, and research needs to turn on a dime. 

Let’s not forget that no one cared much about researching what C3 actually measured back in 2008 because it was designed as a one- or two-season band-aid until post-buy computer systems could incorporate minute-by-minute ratings.  That was eight years ago, and we are still stuck with C3 and the equally meaningless C7.  That’s what happens when one research company controls the marketplace currency. 

TV might be everywhere, but really good research is still nowhere near where it needs to be.

10 comments about "TV Might Be Everywhere -- But Viewers Aren't".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 5, 2016 at 4:02 p.m.

    Good points, Steve. Unfortunately it is the networks and cable channels who would have to fund the development of the kinds of research you are advocating, then pay for it on an ongoing basis. I'm afraid that they just wont be interested unless they see that it has a direct bearing on ad sales. Which leaves us with simplistic audience ratings or, even worse, device usage rather than "viewing" as our "cross-media" planning and buying "currency".Based on past experience,  I wouldn't count on the agencies and certainly not the advertisers to pony up the funding----no matter what they say about its potential importance.

  2. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, October 5, 2016 at 4:14 p.m.

    The digital effect in TV, then, is what it is online:  to fragment audiences

    Online the truth is that it has fragmented audiences to a point where no one can reach them with advertising. How far will TV go?

    My instinct is that there's a lot accurate here about audience fragmentation. But there will remain a center of gravity in traditional style TV and DVR what will still be economically effective.

    At a macro economic view, I am concerned about digital tendency to destroy without replacing. Advertising is critical to economic health of a nation. And TV may be the most critical part of that mix. (That said, Google spent a lot of money on print advertising in newspapers today.)

  3. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, October 5, 2016 at 4:14 p.m.

    I agree Ed.  But I think Advertisers, who should be more interested in sales than ad sales should be putting pressure on agencies to partner with ComScore, TiVo, etc. to do this research. Remember it was advertiser pressure because of fear of commercial avoidance, not agencies or networks, that really led to DVR measurement. 

  4. Doc Searls from Customer Commons, October 5, 2016 at 4:17 p.m.

    All good points, but why do so many reports like this seem to give 55+ up for dead?

    Yo: one in four mobile shoppers is 55+ (, and the same demographic has by far the most money to spend (

    Plenty of 55+'ers watch glowing rectangles other than old-fashioned TVs, and are cutting cords (and tolerance for heavy spot loads) just like every other demographic.

    Just looking for a little respect for the demographic that's done the most to deserve it.

  5. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report replied, October 5, 2016 at 4:25 p.m.

    Not giving up on 55+ at all. These viewers are also not as cohesive as they once were - particularly 45-64. I've written about how these viewers are nothing like previous generations, are often in significantly different life stages, which impacts all levels of media usage, and are in many ways the most desirable.

  6. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, October 5, 2016 at 4:33 p.m.

    Gerat piece!  Thought provoking as always.
    Sadly the industry is still leaning on demos although digital media are providing more sophisticted multi-faceted targeting options (beware data acuracy however) which have been embraced for planning if not buying/selling. 
    Your reference to what happens when an unregulated monoploy measures the media currency is on point and was exacerbated by the take-over of Arbitron by Nielsen of course. 
    As a reminder there never has been a gold standard achieved in media measurement - despite the claims.  Even the so called "Standards" established by MRC are in reality only Guidelines albeit thorough and invaluable.  What is clear in the TV/Video marketplace you elegantly described, is that single-source media curency measurement solutions are no longer viable.  Data integration, modelling and devlopment of psuedo single-source databases (to understand the cross platform duplication and behaviours) from various harmonized sources are required in today's TV/Video measurement environment.  Interestingly the lessons learned and being  learned from the measurement of various OOH/DOOH panels - a highly complex mixture of formats, environments and locations - to produce a single currency across formats may help address the media research issues you identifed - and maybe  more?!

  7. Patty Ardis from Ardis Media, LLC, October 5, 2016 at 4:36 p.m.

    All good questions Steve. The fact is many in the media department have been asking these same types of questions over the years. If we are to continue to support the "TV Everywhere" concept then at some point in time someone or perhaps a group of someones will need to step forward. Perhaps one of the mega brands in partnership with an agency and a network will undertake this important research? We can always hope!

  8. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, October 5, 2016 at 4:48 p.m.

    It is indeed messy. Especially as we attempt to better define our targets behaviorally against multiple criteria the audience projections for them at a program and even cable network can hardly be reliable amid so much fragmentation. And local....well, forget that.

    Agreed to, universal methods for that which has scale such as national TV HH viewership (Rentrak vs. Nielsen) as well as sound modeling/assignment using robust samples for viewer data to might as least re-set some stability with linear TV.  (imagine if we could fuse MRI,SMRB, Experian, Nielsen, Rentrak/Comscore/STB data).  As this knowledge is gained, device, location, time can be measured and digital knowledge inherently gained concurrently. Industry fragmentation can yield so much more if it becomes collaboration.  While we are searching for the holy grail, we might saddle up our unicorns.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 5, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.

    Demographics change everyday which means research and targeting must change every day which will cost more than profiteering. Products/service needs cross large swaths, larger than researchers selling their products want you to believe. And if you want the shares to increase in size, reduce the number of slices of pie...(yeah).

  10. Chris Peterson from Rain the Growth Agency, October 7, 2016 at 2:01 p.m.

    Some of this information will be derived from device graphs that include connected TV's - from outside the traditional research ecosystem. It has a ways to go, but it's coming. When this is then bumped up against first party CRM data, it gets even more interesting. Also, just want to be included in the same set of comments as one of the authors of Cluetrain Manifesto!

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