Is Streaming Hurting Traditional TV?

Once in a while a piece of research shows up that’s just confusing and such was the case the other day.  GfK Research has been doing annual surveys of network TV viewing for the past six years and the seventh iteration has produced some data that I can’t quite figure out.  Maybe you can help me.

Diagram of Streaming Multicast

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the last seven years:

the proportion of those who say they “expect to be able to watch my favorite shows on a device of my choice” has nearly doubled, from 19% in 2006 to 34% now. But those who watch network programs via streaming options are now more likely to say that this erodes their “traditional” viewing of the same shows. One in three (33%) report that they watch less “regular” TV as a result of streaming viewing, compared to one in four (24%) who say they watch more — a net differential of -9 percentage points.

In other words, viewers expect the networks to hand them the weapon with which the viewers murder the nets’ business.  After all, if they’re watching less, there are fewer eyeballs to sell.  It’s the old “trading analog dollars for digital dimes” argument.  But let’s turn to the man (Jeff Zucker, then of NBC, now of CNN) who made that argument and gain a bit of insight into the research:

“We believe in ubiquitous distribution, we want our content to be available everywhere,” Zucker said, also noting that “We’re not afraid to try things and stop them.”

He continued: “What we’ve lost in terms of viewers and ad dollars on the traditional analog systems is not being made up for on the digital side. Until we do that, there’s a risk to all our business plans,” said Zucker.

So actually, it seems that what the research is saying is not that interest in what the networks are airing is lessening – quite the contrary.  27% of those who use streaming or downloaded video now say that they “watch a greater number” of shows because of these options — more than double the 2006 figure of 12%. And 21% report that they spend more time watching TV content thanks to digital viewing options.  The problem seems to be with “regular” TV, which I assume means the program stream as offered by the network through your TV at specific times.  Survey results show 33% say they watch less traditional TV with streaming options, while 24% say they watch more.  As recently as 2008, GfK’s research showed that streaming options provided a net benefit to regular TV viewing; that year, the differential was +5 points, with 25% saying they watched more regular TV, while 20% said they watched less.

What all of this seems to mean is overall TV viewing isn’t declining.  The question for TV nets is how to derive as much revenue from streaming as traditional viewing. GfK also found 32% are visiting network sites via a mobile device so let’s put that inventory into the mix as well.  Maybe the research is a cry for sellers to do a better job of getting premium CPM’s for these measurable engaged viewers of the streams?  What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud

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