Does Anybody Really Know How People Watch TV?

When I first joined the television business in the mid-'70s as a secretary in the programming department of BBDO, the media pundits were fairly confident that they knew how people watched television:

The tribe gathered in a common, centralized living space around the TV monitor, and each member was assigned a specific task. Someone was designated as the manual dial/channel changer, others oversaw the seating hierarchy and refreshments, and the less fortunate were in charge of reception, which required manual dexterity to be able to simultaneously hold the rabbit ears (antenna), grab the window for better signal conductivity and view the TV screen. A consensus on the evening's program selections was eventually reached--though I am sure with coercion, as in my family--after each member presented his or her case. At that time in New York City, where I resided, there was a choice of 13 channels. All free. Audience viewing measurement was derived by projectable sampling (electronically and manual diaries). The ad community was content.



In the latter part of the 20th century, as television technology and reception evolved from free to subscription models--eventually requiring the TV household to be at the mercy of professionals to hook up their various TV components--the members of the tribe splintered from designated assignments to designated and isolated viewing areas. Further, the manual dial/channel changer was replaced by the remote control; decisions on seating, refreshments and program selection were no longer reached by consensus; the signal receptionist ceased to be a viable function in the household; 13 broadcast channels narrowcast into hundreds; and channel surfing became a national sport. Audience viewing measurement continued to be derived by projectable sampling.

However, the ad community was less content. It was wrestling with the proliferation of channel surfing, and with more and more combative grumbling about what appeared to be Nielsen Media Research's lock on national audience measurement, and the inability of a viable alternative to break the Nielsen stranglehold on viewing behavior in the media realm.

So here we are in the first decade of the 21st century, where the bane of the TV advertiser has migrated from channel surfing to grappling with the challenge of understanding the "C" word activities (control, convenience and choice) in the digital realm; and comprehending the plethora of devices and platforms that engage a viewer in the television experience. Unfortunately, in my opinion, present-day media pundits have no idea of how people view TV in our evolving world of digital-acronymed television platforms, services and advertising applications--i.e., PVR (personal video recorders), EPG (electronic program guide), VOD (video on demand and its many permutations), RFI (request for interactions), to name the most recognizable.

I appreciate the current debates about program ratings versus commercial ratings, average minute viewing vs. second by second viewing, tune away from channel data, and DVR playback viewing (live, same day, within seven). Valuable as these metrics may be, what about the basic stuff of TV viewing--i.e., the context by which viewers interact with their TV, programming and advertising?

As an example, when I watch TV, primarily in the evening, I first switch to my TiVo library to get rid of programs that have recorded but I may have second thoughts about--or possible repeats. Then I begin my hunt for programs to record, so I click on my EPG, then go to channel 500, which on DirecTV is the HBO premium listing. I scroll down to 550, which covers all variations of HBO, Starz and Showtime as well as Sundance, and IFC. From there I click to 255, check up and down within the frame to scrutinize BBCA and TCM. I go back to my TiVo recorded programs to choose the evening's viewing fare and gleefully fast-forward through commercials--but with an eye on commercial frames to see if they will pique my interest. If they do, I will rewind and afford them the courtesy of watching in full. Throughout the evening, and in between viewed episodes, I will journey back to the EPG to browse the late-night listings. I don't have high-def yet--a problem with line-of-sight issues and the rebuild on my septic system--and my cable operator presently doesn't offer VOD, so I cannot include those services in the trial and tribulations of the evening's search.

In my opinion, if the media community understood how viewers utilized the aforementioned TV viewing services, and in which combinations, we would be in better shape to evolve more meaningful advertising applications to provide connections with the consumers of our products--the most important "C" word.

So what are we going to do about this? One advertiser that I know, Chase's Manning Field, a fellow TV Boarder, is commissioning a study on the very subject. He will share his findings at the Carat Exchange in late spring. So here's what I propose: if any of you reading this blog would like to submit your ideas, and they are able to be incorporated into the study, then you will be invited to attend the Exchange and glean what you will from the experience. Look forward to hearing from you.

Next story loading loading..