Opening Night for Must-Click TV

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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 The Conference Board said that nearly 16% of American households clicking onto the Internet are watching television broadcasts online.

What’s also fascinating about The Conference Board’s summer and 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.

MORE THAN A BITE

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

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’ve missed a scheduled episode on traditional television.

The convenience of being able to watch a 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 of five online-TV viewers cite personal convenience as the major reason for watching the online telecasts.

More discerning for advertisers and networks, though, is this: 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 TV viewership, though — 33% of viewers say that broadband Internet television viewing actually increased their overall TV viewing, compared to 13%, who said they now turn the living-room set off more frequently, according to Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing 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 HBO have premiered some of their best programming via their respective on-demand services.

In fact, Disney premiered its blockbuster High School Musical 2 movie via Disney On Demand 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: HSM2, with a 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, said it’s way too early to consider such lofty online distribution scenarios.

Despite the increase in television-show viewing on the Internet, Web surfers overall still spend just 4.5 minutes on average per day watching legal video content online, according to Leichtman’s interpretation of recent ComScore research regarding online usage.

STILL BUILDING MASS

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 spent viewing averages network executives would use to back a radical platform-distribution decision.

So while more viewers are watching TV on the Web, I wouldn’t go out and buy a top-of-the-line Dell laptop hoping to catch the next episode of Heroes before it airs on NBC just yet.

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