Picture This

Logging On For Must Click TV

10/22/2007 7:16 AM

A recent survey of Internet users should give television executives and producers some pause as to how consumers will access their content in the near future.

A report released last week by the business research organization Conference Board says that nearly 16% of American households clicking onto the Internet are watching television broadcasts online.

What’s also fascinating about Conference Board’s summer/early fall survey of 10,000 households was that the viewing of full-length episodes on the Internet has doubled in a year, with approximately half of surveyed consumers watching their favorite shows online.

For years the conventional wisdom has been that that Web viewers only wanted to watch quick short video segments on their laptops, leaving the experience of watching one-hour dramas on the living room big-screen television.    

But the survey results seem to point to a modest behavioral shift in the way viewers consume content on the Web. They’re becoming more comfortable turning on the computer and clicking on a full-length episode of such Web-available shows as CBS’s CSI Miami or ABC Family’s drama series Lincoln Heights – especially if they missed a scheduled episode from one of those shows on traditional television.

Online users catching up on missed content have increased to 42% from 30% a year ago, according to the report.

The convenience of being able to watch their favorite show whenever and wherever they wish is the main reason for the increase in long form Internet viewing. The survey states that more than three out of five online TV viewers cite personal convenience as the major reason for watching TV broadcasts online.

More discerning for advertisers and networks, more than one-third chose online viewing in order to avoid watching those dreaded Viagra commercials.

The increase of online viewing of television programs doesn’t seem to be cannibalizing overall television viewership – 33 percent of viewers say that broadband Internet television viewing actually increased their overall TV viewing, compared to 13 percent who said they now turn the TV off more frequently, according to Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) and Nielsen Media Research’s spring study “A Barometer of Broadband Content and Its Users.”

So the survey begs the question: As the number of consumers watching television shows on the Web continues to increase, and if such increases aren’t affecting overall television viewing, should network executives consider debuting first run episodes of top shows in cyberspace?.

Recently networks such as Disney Channel and Home Box Office have premiered some of their best programming via their respective on-demand services. In fact, Disney premiered its blockbuster High School Musical 2 movie on its Disney On Demand service a week before its Aug. 17 premiere. And we all know how much the early on-demand exposure adversely affected the movie’s television viewership: the movie’s premiere audience of 17.2 million viewers remains the most watched cable show of all time.

So could we see proprietary network programming debut on the Web as well?

While the data on Web television viewing looks promising, Bruce Leichtman, president of new-media research company Leichtman Research Group says it’s way too early to consider such lofty distribution scenarios for the web. Despite the increase in television show viewing on the Web, overall Web surfers still only spend 4.5 minutes on average per day watching legal video content on the web, according to Leichtman’s interpretation of recent comScore research regarding online usage.

That compares unfavorably to the 180 million minutes that Comcast On Demand alone generates for its video content every day, according to Leichtman.  

Not quite the impressive time viewing averages network executives are looking to base a radical platform distribution decision on.

So while the viewing of television shows on the web is increasing, I wouldn’t go out and buy a top-of-the-line Dell laptop hoping to catch the next episode of Heroes on the Web before it airs on NBC just yet.

October