October 17, 2007
Online TV Affects TV Viewing; It Affects It Not; It Affects It...

Alice Robison here at the Program in Comparative Media Studies alerted me last night to a short piece from TelevisionWeek's Daisy Whitney that viewing of online TV has doubled in the past year.

The study, which came from ad researchers TNS Media Intelligence, found that viewers cited most often a desire to avoid ads and the convenience of watching on-demand as reasons to move online. However, she writes, "While broadcast television ratings continue to decline, 80 percent of online viewers say watching shows online has not affected their viewing of traditional television."

This makes for an interesting comparison with a Nielsen study I wrote about back in July, which found a 16 percent increase in watching overall online video from September 2006 to March 2007. In that case, only 13 percent of viewers said that watching video online happened at the detriment of television content. Perhaps either they didn't watch that much television in the first place or watched video online in ways that didn't interfere with television viewing, including watching TV online at places they normally wouldn't be watching TV, i.e. the workplace. At the time, I wrote:

More than that, though, when thinking about professionally produced online video content, it shouldn't come as a major shock that making that video available online might help create more television viewing for many. Cross-platform distribution provides further ways of time-shifting. As opposed to the DVR or the VCR, this type of time-shifting is even less reliant on the linear trajectory of the television lineup, because one can remember to go to a Web site to watch a video days after it initially aired on TV, whereas you can only watch something on DVR if you remembered to program it to record the program beforehand.

Then there was the IBM study which touted the decline of TV as the primary media device in the home and pointing out that "personal Internet time rivals TV time," a study that I found problematic in some ways and wrote about here. Also germane to this discussion is a study from earlier this year that found downloading video an unsatisfactory experience.

What does it all mean? Are people watching more TV online? Certainly. Are there more online TV options than ever before? Absolutely. Is it at a tipping point? Not yet.

And what does it mean for traditional television viewing? Not the apocalypse; of that, I'm certain. There are still many reasons people prefer television, although I think the proliferation of TV shows online and the spread of broadband will necessitate an eventual emphasis on content rather than platform as the primary driver for ad dollars. As I pointed out with the Jericho viewing controversy, the problem is increasingly a media industry built on valuing some forms of official viewership over others and audiences who increasingly watch across a variety of platforms. For fans, watching content legally online or through the DVR or VOD or a variety of other time-shifting options is equal to watching in first-run, but the TV industry is still set up on a first-airing prioritized model, just as film is set up on an opening weekend model. Changing to create effective business models around this content is not easy, and the more people I have met across the media industries ensures me that there are many smart people very aware of these inconsistencies, but the problem is systemic, and those are the harder ones to solve...



This is a fascinating and important discussion. I think that the increasing popularity of HD TVs is an important variable, too. For instance the overlap between Apple TV owners and HD TV owners is huge; and when all these people started watching their iTunes video purchases on their 50" HD screens, they quickly realized that this was not a viable replacement for digital cable.


Good point, Mike. I have a friend who recently thought he would get an HD TV, probably around 42", and pair it with an Apple TV. However, for him, it wasn't the technical quality that caused him to go the digital cable route instead but rather the NBC departure from iTunes, since most of his favorite shows were linked to NBCU in one way or another.