The 5 Myths of TV Viewership: What You Don’t Know Might Surprise You

January 4, 2010

TV remains the dominant medium for content consumption across the 3 screens, even with the growing presence of video content on web and mobile platforms. Yet 5 great myths — urban media legends if you will — about trends in television consumption have managed to become commonly held beliefs, even among senior Marketing professionals. 

5 TV Viewing Myths

And like the proverbial alligator in the New York City sewers, they just don’t want to go away. As the new year begins, it’s time to disentangle the myths and their realities: 

MYTH #1:    Young People are Watching Less and Less TV
REALITY:    Youngsters Have Always Watched Less TV

A positive correlation has always existed between age and TV viewership — older people watch more, younger people less. This is simply a function of time available, as older people have more of it. A recent Nielsen Wire post (Disclosure: I work for The Nielsen Company) showed that adults aged 65+ watch 38% more TV hours per month than those ages 25–34. And, viewers aged 12-24 watch even less.

TV Viewing: Always Lowest Among Younger Viewers

It’s true that children and teens watch less TV each month than adults do —  but contrary to popular belief, they are not replacing TV with the internet for video consumption, but have always watched less TV than older people. Instead, younger consumers are supplementing TV with new web and mobile mediums.  

MYTH #2:  Ratings are Down Due to People Watching Less TV
REALITY: Ratings are Down Due to Network Fragmentation

TV viewership in the U.S. is actually up over the past decade. The number of TV channels in the U.S. has more than tripled since 1990, and the availability of more channels has spread audiences more thinly. As a result, the average channel audience and program becomes smaller, driving lower ratings.

TV Viewing -- More Channels Means Lower Ratings

Accenture research on television viewership shows that over the past year, there has been a 5% increase in viewers watching six or more television channels and a 6% increase in viewers watching eight or more television programs per week. For marketers, fragmentation means that TV program engagement metrics to measure the engagement of viewers with TV programs become even more important.

MYTH #3:  Small Channels Have Highly Loyal Audiences
REALITY: Small Channels Are Small and Disloyal

Small channels face the same “Double Jeopardy” laws of small brands. Fewer people watch small channels and those who watch don’t watch for very long. Even when a small channel has an above average amount of viewers, viewers still only spend a small proportion of their total viewing time on small channels.So, the commonly held belief that you can reach a small, but highly loyal group of viewers on a small channel is false–small channels, just like small brands, are small because of fewer viewers and the viewers they do have aren’t that loyal.

MYTH #4:  Audience Demos Differ by Channel
REALITY:  Demos Are Similar Across Large Channels

Audience demographics vary far less than expected among large network television channels.

Large channels have almost identical demographic profiles. (Data courtesy of Nielsen Media Research, Inc. 2009)

 

Most network content is so broad based in appeal that, apart from obvious exceptions (Kids channels, music channels, etc.) the larger channels and networks do not have significantly different audiences.

MYTH #5:  Programs Have Highly Loyal Audiences
REALITY:  Programs Have Relatively Low Loyalty

Research shows that repeat rates for TV programs are generally low — around 38%. Repeat rates are lowest for comedies and low rated shows (see Double Jeopardy above). For perspective, most CPG companies consider a 50% repeat rate the bare minimum hurdle for a successful new product.While admittedly not a perfect comparison, the reality is that the same exact viewers are generally not watching a program week in and week out. Viewers tune out because of inconvenience, availability, lack of interest, family preferences, and other reasons.

TV Viewing — Myths No More

Research shows TV will continue to reign as the preeminent advertising platform for the foreseeable future. TV viewing habits have proven to be remarkably impervious to social and technological changes and the introduction of new media. In fact, the research that’s been done on the topic suggests that there has been no significant decline over the past 15 years in the effectiveness of TV advertising generating sales lift (see Joel Rubinson blog).

Where Should CMO’s Focus ?

CMO’s should focus on creating media strategies based on the fundamental truths about longstanding TV viewing behaviors. Avoid the popular urban media myths that are so rampant — e.g. TV is dying.

Focus instead on how your brand can use TV advertising in a more integrated way with new digital, social and earned media. This will be the real space for innovation in the future.  After all, those fictional New York City alligators have yet to migrate out of the sewers and into TV land.

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