Out-Of-Home TV Study: No Longer Out-Of-Sight, Or Mind

Although an estimated 36 million-plus individuals watch broadcast and cable television from locations outside the home every week, measuring all these eyeballs has proven somewhat of an elusive undertaking since Nielsen last tried in the late 1990s. With Monday's release of a study by Total TV Audience Monitor (TTAM), however, the quartet of firms behind the report believes it has provided the best assessment yet of viewers watching in bars, college locations, hotels, and the workplace.

TTAM bills the study as the first to measure out-of-home viewing by men and women (previous TTAM efforts surveyed men alone), as well as the first to accurately gauge viewing by college students. The data was compiled via viewer diaries toted around by 4,021 adults during October and November of 2003; a supplemental campus-based sample tapped 868 students at four-year colleges. The research was underwritten by ESPN, the National Football League, and ABC--three entities probably more than a bit interested in learning how many people are watching sports telecasts in bars and other group settings.



Several of the study's findings--such as the aforementioned 36 million sum and that 20 percent of all adults between the ages of 18 and 49 watch television outside the home during an average week--aren't exactly news, as both figures fall within previous estimates. Some of the other learnings, however, could prompt debate. For instance, 72 percent of the out-of-home audience views television in environments described by TTAM as "conducive to advertising" (on- and off-campus housing, hotels). Additionally, 18- to-34-year-old adults comprise 59 percent of the out-of-home audience; that same demographic segment only comprises 22 percent of in-home viewers. Yet it's the college numbers that strike longtime measurement guru and TTAM leader Dick Montesano, president of Montesano Marketing Research, as most compelling. The study revealed that most out-of-home television watching occurs at colleges in off-campus housing (29.5 percent), with on-campus housing close behind at 18.6 percent.

"We didn't expect the level of viewing," he says. "The fact that this market has been insufficiently surveyed until this point is pretty amazing, when you consider the spending power." A recent 360 Youth/Harris Interactive report pegged the annual spending power of college students at around $200 billion, and noted that most students have slightly less than $300 per month for discretionary purchases.

As for the higher-than-expected number of viewers watching in locations that are conducive to advertising, Montesano hopes that the study will help eradicate some of the misperceptions about out-of-home viewing: namely, that viewers pay considerably less attention to what they're watching--and thus to ads--when they're away from their primary residence. "I'm at a gym and watching TV while I'm on a treadmill--there's not much that's going to distract me," he insists. "The college kid watching in his dorm is similar to the college kid watching at home. This stigma attached to out-of-home viewing really doesn't make a lot of sense."

Eliminating that stigma is obviously important to ESPN, which explains in part the network's support of TTAM from its inception. The network's motives are also likely pecuniary in nature: if it can prove that millions of heretofore unmeasured viewers are watching in bars and elsewhere, it stands to benefit in terms of an increased number of viewers with which to lure advertisers. Indeed, of the more than 5.4 million adults who watch ESPN outside the home each week, 59 percent only watch the network in unmeasured locations. It ranks behind CBS, Disney sibling ABC, Fox, and NBC in its average weekly out-of-home audience.

"We have this audience, and we want to be accountable to our clients," says Artie Bulgrin, ESPN senior vice president, research and sales development. "At the same time, we believe there should be significant value associated with this audience."

Bulgrin is enthused by the response he's received from advertisers since ESPN starting backing the TTAM research. "At first, there was a lot of 'we get this audience anyway,'" he recalls. "But as in-home is eroding, advertisers are really looking to capture viewers wherever they can. That's raised their consciousness of out-of-home audiences."

The firms that collaborated with Montesano Marketing Research on the TTAM study are LHK Partners, Leflein Associates, and Star Media Enterprises. The next TTAM survey will be conducted in 2005.

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