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Outside Thinkbox: why we need a full picture of viewing habits

Indira Kuriyan,  Associate director, corporate development, Videology

Indira Kuriyan,
Associate director, corporate development, Videology

Guest post by Indira Kuriyan, associate director, corporate development, Videology

Recent research from Thinkbox, the marketing body for commercial TV in the UK, makes a compelling argument for the continued strength of the TV set when it comes to viewing traditional broadcast content.  And undoubtedly, broadcaster content and the TV set continue to play a vital and robust role within the viewing schedule of the average Brit.

However, by its own admission, Thinkbox’s data does not cover all devices or all video content. But taking those considerations into account paints a much more complete picture of viewing habits today. Crucially, data that addresses those factors reveals that growth in video minutes – as well as growth in viewers – is coming from non-broadcaster, non-TV set based content.

As Thinkbox’s research makes clear, non-TV-set viewing of broadcaster content in 2013 accounts for only 1.5 percent of total viewing. But this represents a 16 percent increase in minutes vs. the previous year, and compares very favourably in light of decreases in viewing minutes for both commercial and non-commercial TV (1 percent and 8 percent respectively).

Video viewing on devices other than TV sets is in fact the only category that has grown when compared with 2012.  Presumably this grows further still when the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm are taken into account – which they were not for the purposes of the study.

Viewing the data from a further step back only raises more questions.  Broadcaster content remains an integral part of our lives – especially as viewed on TV sets – yet Thinkbox’s statistics become even more interesting when viewed in light of the overall pool of audio-visual impressions across all devices.

All signs point to a population that is steadily consuming more audio-visual content, as a whole.  Those who aren’t watching it on TV, or are watching less of it on TV, are watching content online.  Data from Thinkbox and comScore’s Video Metrix indicates that while minutes of online video viewed (across all content) increased at a 14 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2011 and 2013, TV minutes have dropped by 2 percent each year.

ComScore’s data encompasses all online video, and whereas viewing of broadcaster content outside TV sets would seem to account for only 3 minutes 30 seconds per day, consumers are actually viewing more than 52 minutes of online video daily – an increase of 12 minutes vs. 2011.  As a result, the market share of TV sets vs. other devices,  and of broadcaster content vs. all other content, is falling, in terms of total minutes of content viewed.  Since 2011, TV-based viewing has lost four points to online video, and OLV now accounts for 17 percent of all minutes of video consumed, vs. 13 percent in 2011.

To reframe the issue, it’s not that broadcaster content is doing poorly: it’s not, and it continues to be an integral part of our daily viewing experience.  But it has not been as successful in its ability to capture the growth in online video, as viewers have expanded their repertoire to include a variety of other sources to get their daily video fix.  By some measures, broadcaster content isn’t doing any worse; but by many others, nor is it doing better.

Nor are TV sets doing poorly.  I’m in complete agreement with Thinkbox that there is a likelihood that audiences will return to TV from PCs and tablets as newer sets provide greater on-demand choices.  However, in the near-term, viewing on TV sets, as a whole, is in clear decline.

If we further consider that TV audiences are decreasing, and that the percentage of light TV viewers (vs. medium or heavy users) is increasing, then we approach Thinkbox’s research from a completely different perspective.

Yes, broadcaster viewing on TV sets remains extremely robust.  However, audiences and share of attention are declining, and broadcasters and set-makers alike will need to guard against any further erosion of their current dominant position.

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