When It Comes To Viewer Habits, Ad Folks Are The Stranger Things

If you think the average television consumer out there is out of touch with what’s happening and stuck in a rut watching the same old stuff in the same old ways, here’s news for you.

You’re absolutely right (but please cut the attitude).

A new study, Do We Have Consensus?  by the Video Advertising Bureau concludes that “ad pros overwhelmingly mis-estimate American media habits based on their own.”

Out there, when Americans think entertainment they think “NCIS.” Ad people tend to think "Stranger Things."

Ad people think they watch as much as the average viewer. The media-entrenched say they do 32% of their viewing on TV. And they predicted that real world viewers spend 25% of their watching time by watching on TV.  



Oh please! The average viewers do 82% of their viewing on TV, according to Nielsen.

Ad people also believe other people devote 18% of their time watching on mobile phones, more than the 13% the media savvy ad people do. But, in fact, this study says real people spend just 2% of their time watching on a smartphone  and 1%  on average, watching on a tablet. The ad whiffed on that one, too: They estimated 17%.

VAB says they haven’t seen another perception versus reality study quite like this, and in fact, the two people behind it--Danielle DeLauro, the senior vice president of strategic sales and insights, and Jason Wiese, the vice president in that area--said they were kind of surprised that in many areas,  ad folks predicted averages viewers were a lot like them.

The survey checked with 250 ad types. About 71% are media buyers, nearly 75% between the ages of 25 to 44 but significantly more male (63%) than female. 

“Going into this, to be honest with you, I would have thought the ad community would think they were more tech savvy, which they do, but I also thought they would think the average American has more time on their hands so they would consume more of every media and consume much more digital,” DeLauro said.

For most of the study’s questions, there should be three answers: What ad people do, what they predict the average American does, and what Americans really do. “You really think you’ll see three different numbers,” Wiese said. But in many cases, the ad folks seemed to think they weren’t very far apart from the average viewer.

The idea for this report grew as DeLauro and Wiese went to agencies to discuss the now blurred (in VAB’s opinion) impression about how dominant TV still is. Invariably, DeLauro said, before they began their spiel, an agency exec would poll the crowd, asking how many of them watch live TV. And invariably, DeLauro said, very few agency people raised their hands.

But they do live in different worlds, if you believe every one of these charts.  For example, for most Americans, broadcast TV is very relevant: It makes up their entire top 25 most-watched shows, according to Nielsen.  For ad folks, only 12 do. And the top two shows in the ad community are HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” (which also are ad-free, by the way).

Likewise: 89% of our viewing is done live; just 53% of ad folks’ viewing is live. (And they predicted the general public would be like them--supposing 55% of their viewing was live). DeLauro says when she gives talks at agencies, the crowd is usually stunned to learn that only 50% of viewers have a DVR.

For YouTube, which famously proclaims that it reaches more 18-to-49 year old viewers during primetime than the top 10 TV shows, the ad community is way off base, too. This survey says 55% them spend a half hour or more watching YouTube every day and predicted that 69% of the average viewers watch that much. In fact, the average time spent by adults on YouTube per day is 19 minutes.

The average American watches 12 minutes of video on a computer per day; 61% of the ad folks spend a half hour or more and 70% they believe the average American does too. Way off.

The ad community is also more likely to have an SVOD and TVEverywhere apps; they go to Facebook Live more. Conversely, 62% of them have a second TV; out there in the real world 87% do.

If there’s a message in all of this, it might be for the ad community to leave the cathedral of tomorrow and get back to reality. And since the Video Ad Bureau’s roots come from being a cable-supported organization, these findings can't hurt as Upfronts/NewFronts get cooking.

“There’s an inordinate amount of sampling going on in the business now, trying to understand what’s next. It’s understandable,” DeLauro said. “Our job is to know what’s coming up, what’s next. But I think that more than ever, because the media landscape is so complicated, we’re spending more time watching what’s coming up rather than what’s going on now.”

5 comments about "When It Comes To Viewer Habits, Ad Folks Are The Stranger Things".
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  1. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, April 25, 2017 at 11:43 a.m.

    Great to get this info. I've been mystified at how the ad biz these days has chosen to believe it's habits are everybody's habits. That wasn't true 20 years ago.

    Seems that enthusiasm around their own discovery of digital gadgetry has blinded our biz to how different we are from the mass market. In fact, somehow it has become passé to even think about a mass market.

    So, now, let's pay attention and reduce the BS about disruption... Technology may change at the speed of the internet, but consumers still change like they always did - slowly and only when it makes sense in their lives.

  2. Chuck Lantz from, network, April 25, 2017 at 2:50 p.m.

    The only shows that both sides seem to agree upon are The Big Bang Theory and This Is Us?

    That sounds like a punchline.

  3. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, April 25, 2017 at 2:54 p.m.

    Five years ago Joe Mandese reported on research done by USA Touchpoints that showed very similar results.  When it comes to media, media people are "not normal."  When it comes to media usage, those in the ad/media business are not normal. We love media and innovation. That's why we got into this business. We watch less tv than normal people do.  Partly because we work longer hours. But we should know the facts. They are produced and available to us all. When we ignore them, our clients suffer. 

    When you hear someone at a conference talk about their media habits, or the media habits of their children, you are listening to someone who doesn't know what they are talking about. I wish I had a nickel for each time I had to listen to one of these people. I would be a very wealthy man. 

    Wish those Wall Streeters monitoring the media business had been part of this study too. 

  4. pj bednarski from Media business freelancer replied, April 25, 2017 at 3:06 p.m.

    Also,  100% of the parents on media conference panels strictly limit the amount of time their kids watch TV, but on the other hand, or at another conference, their three-year old spends all day watching cartoons he/she has downloaded from YouTube. 

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 25, 2017 at 7:20 p.m.

    I'm not even sure that this study defined the media habits of ad folk. If the respondents were metered in some way and the objective electronic findings were compared with their viewing claims, I would expect to see very large disparities---with traditional TV faring much better than was reported.

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