Today’s guest blog post is from David Ernst and Pam Pearce from Discovery Communications’ Ad Sales Research team, based on a study managed by Discovery’s Kerry O’Brien.
There is no question that television audiences today have more choices than ever – not only do a rapidly expanding number program options exist, but so do the number of ways that a viewer can choose to watch content. The permutations are now becoming seemingly infinite (live or on-demand, download or stream, tablet or phone, with or without advertising) and an increasing number of people are taking advantage of those options. In this environment of perpetual change defined by an increasing number of choices, there has been much debate about the state of the traditional television experience. How have these choices impacted the way that people watch television? And if there are perceived changes, what do they portend for the future?
In order to gain a deeper understanding of these transitions, Discovery Communications partnered with Interpret to examine the key motivators of television consumption today, as well as to understand how and why television might be changing in the future.*
The results of this research (download the full study) show – to paraphrase Mark Twain – “the reports of Television’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.” While there are groups of people who could seemingly live without the big screen (mostly younger), the vast majority of people still have a love affair with the TV set.
TV Remains on Top
According to the Discovery/Interpret study, rates of watching TV content via a cable/satellite box remains by far the most popular method of experiencing video, besting the next most frequent method – streaming through a computer – by 23%.
*The study was conducted among US consumers (aged 18-49) who own a TV and another device capable of legally streaming content. Given the incidence of consumers with both a TV and another connected device continues to grow above 70%, this sample was chosen as an indicator of where the market is headed.
What keeps the traditional TV experience at the top? It is simple, consumers LIKE the experience of watching content on a TV set. Nearly six in 10 consumers prefer it over all other ways to watch programming.
Also contributing to the appeal of traditional TV is its ability to easily deliver a quality experience. 39% of respondents completely agree that “It is most convenient to watch TV shows on your television.” Smaller screens are unable to match the picture and sound delivered by the TV, making them less likely to be chosen when traditional TV is an option. Even consumers who stream content through apps on Internet-enabled TVs or devices connected to the TV enjoy viewing on the actual TV – 38% agree they prefer it over other screens.
The study also revealed some additional (maybe surprising) aspects of the traditional TV experience that viewers enjoy – for instance, having a set schedule (17% of respondents completely agree). One-quarter of those who watch TV through their cable box agree they prefer to watch shows the day they air rather than waiting for them to become available elsewhere. At a time when spoilers are quickly made available through social media, viewers are driven to tune into programs the night they air. Watching in real time is important for viewers who want to keep up to date on their favorite shows and not have their experience marred by those who have already watched the program.
The ability to facilitate a shared experience is yet another quality that helps to earn traditional TV its preferred status for many consumers, so much so that 34% of consumers completely agree that they choose to experience content their TV sets because they can view easily with friends and family.
Viewers Let Content Be Their Guide
What makes viewers look elsewhere, outside of the high-quality, social, easy and preferred experience of traditional TV? It is an insatiable appetite for content. The majority of streamers turn to network sites/apps and streaming services simply because they cannot find all TV shows on one service (54%). Similarly, nearly half use multiple services because they are looking to expand the variety of TV content available to them. The desire for more content choices, combined with the flexibility of watching content on-demand accounts for the majority of the appeal of streaming. So while the vast amount of viewers love their TV set, many are flirting with other options primarily to increase their selection and control their content choices.
When it comes to watching video content, for a sizeable portion of the population TV viewing is not an “either/or” proposition. While viewers will gravitate to the most relevant platform based on their most immediate needs and circumstances, it is important to note that audiences are increasingly evolving and personalizing their viewing experiences. As viewers look for new ways to “turbocharge” their experience, they will incorporate additional platforms in addition to the TV set to enhance programs with additional content, information and conversation.
TV or Not TV
While it is obvious that we are in the midst of a rapid transformation, whereby behavior is changing at unprecedented rate, it also seems clear that viewers have not completely abandoned the TV set in search of new ways to feed their content cravings. The fact that viewers still enjoy the habitual nature of television would suggest that future changes in behavior will be more evolutionary than revolutionary. With this progression will come more content that will be competing for viewing attention – both live and on demand, from a set-top-box and from the cloud. Which means the question still remains – how will greater access and options impact the time spent watching (what we currently) call network or cable TV?
The question really strikes at the definition of television – what is TV, where does it begin and end? Perhaps we can envision a time where all video devices, big and small, will be considered TV devices. Potentially, what we call “over the top” will just be another way of watching TV. These questions will likely be answered over the next few years or even sooner, but what seems very clear right now is that the multiplying number of programming options will perpetually fragment the audience for video.
In this near future scenario, re-aggregating audiences will likely be a critical consideration for most advertisers. Audiences will continue to splinter between a growing number of choices, and will also accumulate over longer periods of time, stretching over days and weeks as they exert even more control over when they want to see content.
While this trend is often perceived as being negative, it is also filled with possibility. But to fully take advantage of these possibilities, advertisers and content providers will need to fully embrace and understand what programs audiences are interested in, and how, when and where they want to experience that content as well. More creative ways to extend viewers’ love affair with their TV sets are needed as audiences flirt with other ways of accessing content. In doing so, both programmers and advertisers can develop stronger and deeper connections with audiences as they migrate across the multitude of devices – allowing viewers to be engaged with programming and brand messaging virtually all of the time.
About Interpret LLC
Interpret is the leading cross-media market research firm. The company applies proprietary, cutting-edge methodologies and extensive category knowledge to help clients plan, test, and measure business strategies in the fast-evolving media landscape. Interpret’s unique combination of syndicated measurement products and custom market research services provides a common language across media for the key stakeholders of the digital age.