Commentary

Traditional TV Still Rules -- Even Among Millennials

Nielsen just released its quarterly “Total Audience” report, which provides an overview of the television landscape.  The headlines that accompany these reports are often misleading, and sometimes simply misinterpret the data.  I looked at the last three Q4 reports to get an idea of what’s really going on.

Some highlights:

When it comes to watching video, total adults spent 86% of their viewing time with traditional television in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared to about 14% for all other screens combined. TV viewing declined by just three minutes a day in each of the past two seasons -- so the headlines when this report first came out about TV viewing declining were technically correct, but certainly misleading.  

Despite the stability of traditional television, viewing of other video screens (multimedia devices, video on PCs and smartphones) has grown dramatically (by about 2 hours per week, from 3:23 hours per week in Q4 2014 to 5:38 in Q4 2016?).  These gains, however, have not come at the expense of traditional television -- at least for total viewers and adults.   

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This does, of course, vary dramatically by age.  Among adults under 25, TV is still the dominant screen, but the declines are significant and continuing.  Two years ago, less than one-fifth of this demo’s viewing was devoted to other video screens.  By next year, it will be more than one-third.  Among adults 50-64 and 65+, traditional TV remains steady, accounting for more than 90% of their video viewing.

Subscription VOD penetration recently edged ahead of DVRs, with slightly more than half the country using at least one of these ways to access TV content. By next year, though, these numbers won’t even be close.  In the past two years, DVR penetration rose from 48% to 53%, but SVOD grew significantly, from under 40% penetration to 56%. 

This trend is clearly illustrated by the rise of viewing on multimedia devices among every age group, which is indicative of the increased popularity of not only Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, but premium cable on-demand services from HBO, Showtime, and others.  Two years ago, the reach among total viewers of multimedia devices was only 10% as high as the reach of traditional TV.  This year it is 36% as high.  Two years from now, it may be more than 50% as high.

ComScore recently released its “Cross Platform Future in Focus 2016” report, which contains a tremendous amount of information regarding digital media usage.  There is not much crossover with Nielsen’s “Total Audience” report -- but where there is overlap, there are some striking differences.  

One such difference: From Q4 2014 to Q42015, Nielsen reports the time spent watching live TV declined by about 2%, while comScore reports it increased by about 7%.  That’s a major difference.  Nielsen’s data is for total viewers and adults 18+, while ComScore’s is for households, but since both figures for Nielsen show a 2% decline, it’s reasonable to think if it reported households, it would also show a 2% decline.

As more data becomes available from more sources, there will continue to be more differences among them.  My current feeling is that (at least for broad media usage data) Nielsen is still the gold standard.  But both buyers and sellers need to understand what all the data means, where it comes from, how it is derived, and whether it is projectable.  Don’t just use data because it’s big, or because some company reports it, or aggregates it for you.

2 comments about "Traditional TV Still Rules -- Even Among Millennials".
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  1. Carlos Pacheco from Boat Rocker Studios, April 13, 2017 at 10:57 a.m.

    The biggest mistake traditional television has done is limit the data that is out there or delay its release. We're in a space where up to the minute viewership is important for brands and all involved. Hell, most creators/producers don't know how many watch their shows! It's why there's a fundamental perception that nobody watches TV anymore and that Facebook/YouTube and other online streaming platforms get the headlines and have a huge advantage in metrics. 

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, April 17, 2017 at 8:07 p.m.

    Interesting POV Carlos.

    But I would posit that for a producer 'up-to-the-minute' viewership is the LAST thing you would want.   Here in Australia 'catch-up' viewing represents around 10% of all viewing.   Around 85% is within the week, and the other 15% is within the month.

    Do you REALLY want to sacrifice 10% of your audience numbers just because you want to see the numbers quicker?   Back in the '90s 'live TV' ratings were trialled in South America.   And yep, you can tell it was a disaster because no-one took the idea up (it's a long story that I will spare you).

    But I hope you don't seriously see FB and YT metrics as 'audience'.   They are 'stream starts' and counted as long as 2-seconds are downwloaded (they don't even have to be displayed or watched).

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