He left his room for 90 minutes or so to watch one of his favorite shows, Fox’s “Pitch,” on DVR with my wife and me in the living room. We had three episodes recorded and told him we would start watching them without him if he didn’t join us. It took less than 90 minutes to watch two episodes because we fast-forwarded through all the commercials. When he left his room, of course, he didn’t turn off the TV or any of his devices.
Watching my son’s interaction with both media devices and content makes me wonder more and more whether a company like Nielsen (or any single entity) can fully measure his media exposure, engagement, and advertising awareness. Heck, I’m not even sure they can accurately measure my media experiences.
My son recently got a briefcase that has a screen built into it, which is perfect for traveling. It has room for his Playstation 4 or Xbox One (yes, he has both), and other devices, which plug right into the screen. He often travels with it, and even takes it from room to room within our house. He uses it to play video games, watch Netflix, and occasionally even traditional TV content. If we were a Nielsen household, would the company measure this? Does it even know that things like this exist?
One of the truisms of this business has been that while teens and young adults traditionally have substantially different media habits than older adults, once they graduate from college, get jobs, and start families of their own, their media habits, particularly television viewing, would more or less fall in line with that of previous generations. Whether or not this was actually true, it was based on the idea that what people watched on TV would change (i.e., as people get older they shift away from CW, FOX and younger-skewing cable networks, toward ABC, CBS, NBC, and older-skewing cable nets). The devices they used, however, would not change – because there was basically only one type of device to watch TV content, and it wasn’t mobile.
My 17-year-old son is in the first generation to truly have mobile video access, with the high-speed broadband capability necessary to actually watch TV everywhere. When he graduates from college and gets his own place, will his media habits fall in line with previous generations? Certainly when watching sports, he will continue to gravitate toward a large-screen TV, although he’s perfectly happy to watch football or basketball on his smartphone. Other times, who knows?
Will Nielsen, which still can’t capture all in-home viewing on a traditional TV set, be able to measure his family’s real media experiences (Nielsen was never able to measure VCR playback, and now can’t fully measure DVR playback)? Will any current audience measurement company?
Or will we forever be stuck with the likes of C3 and other measures that merely pretend to provide data on who is actually watching commercials? If we continue to have just one company controlling the bulk of currency measurement, the answer to that last question will unfortunately be yes.