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PERSPECTIVE

Getting the measure of total TV

By Gün Akyuz 03-01-2012

Not a day goes by without the results of some survey or other extolling the growth in non-linear TV viewing on multiple devices. But one glaring omission remains: a survey that regularly measures ‘total’ TV consumption.

Defining ‘TV anywhere’ viewing is becoming more elastic by the day. It’s also running far ahead of the audience measurement and regulation that frames it.

While traditional audience measurement agencies are locked in debate over how to redefine and frame what constitutes TV viewing and how to capture, measure and monetise all that it now embraces, a growing body of surveys report that viewers increasingly sample, view and catch up content across a range of platforms other than the TV set, such as PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, consoles.

The latest one is Motorola’s Mobility Media Engagement Barometer, which last month reported a “dramatic shift” in the traditional TV viewing experience. In the UK, the crossover between online and linear TV viewing is as much as 27%, reportedly the highest in the world, according to Ofcom’s new International Communications Market Report.

It’s not just TV-centric technology that we fiddle with as we watch shows. As many as half of us use a second screen while watching TV at home, says research from Futuresource Consulting. TV viewers increasingly communicate their opinions about the shows they’re watching on social networking sites, as an elegant study by Nielsen/McKinsey company NM Incite showed. It found a statistically significant relationship between online buzz and television ratings.

It’s no wonder that established social networking sites are muscling in as content platforms. In December 2010, one broadcast network, Russia’s CTC Media, took that logical further step with the launch of Videomore, a ‘social TV’ networking site, combining built-in social networking capabilities and free access to CTC Media content.

This is all definitely convergence, but a far cry from what was originally envisaged by early proponents of digital TV for ‘walled gardens,’ interactive red buttons (now being phased out) and limited email functionality.

So what fate awaits the big TV box in the living room? Surveys show that linear TV viewing is buoyant, with metered daily viewing time holding stable, partly thanks to an economic downturn that refuses to budge and keeps people at home but also thanks to increased viewer choice and infinitely better screen technology. The most compelling statistic underpinning the power of the TV proposition is that much of the online VoD viewing is catch-up of linear TV (around 80%), and that most of this dominated by broadcaster-owned VoD players.

But it’s now abundantly clear that the physical TV box will increasingly compete with other devices, and this is now where the lines have blurred when it comes to online TV consumption.

A number of TV audience panels have started measuring online viewing, among them the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) in the UK, with its recently launched pilot, and Nielsen in the US. In 2010, Nielsen launched a total audience metric that aggregates content consumption across TV sets, internet-connected devices and mobiles, based on an online panel tracking 200,000 internet users in the US and 500,000 worldwide.

However, the debate swirling around definitions and methodology has taken BARB and Nielsen down different roads, summed up in this article from Broadcast Engineering.

This autumn BARB launched a new Measurement Sciences Forum and called for new standards to coordinate different sources of information about TV viewing in the ‘TV Everywhere’ world. BARB’s chief executive Bjarne Thelin appealed for “a converged mindset to deal with the new converging world of data,” to avoid what he described as “ending up with separate collections of incompatible data sets that are just floating around in empty space, occasionally bumping into each other.”

Sticking points centre on establishing the best way of distinguishing between online and on-demand viewing; between live or linear TV and any form of catch-up; and unsolved problems such as how to measure migration between platforms, eg viewing a show that starts on one platform, say a TV set, but finishes on another, such as a tablet.

The abundance of online surveys don’t yet capture this level of detail, or in a way that makes them comparable with the metered viewing panels that underpin the TV ratings currency. The sooner we can compare like with like, the sooner the TV and audiovisual industries can fully exploit non-linear viewing activity and begin to monetise their brands to the full.

today's correspondent

Gün Akyuz Research editor
Gun Akyuz Perspective

Gün Akyuz is a highly experienced journalist and media consultant who has researched and written about viewer and programme trends, and evolving business models in the international audiovisual and television industries for two decades.