A recent study conducted by Nielsen Media Research for
Discovery Networks U.S. showed that the Internet has less impact on television viewing
than originally thought.
And although this has cable-television executives
rejoicing, not everyone was convinced that the data were accurate.
According to the study, which measured television
viewership in homes with Internet access, households-using-television levels increased 1.8
percent in Internet homes during the fall of 1997, compared with the same period in 1996.
During primetime, HUT levels were up 1.2 percent in
Internet households, while they were flat in overall TV households. During the fringe time
period (Monday through Friday, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.), Internet-home viewing levels rose 1.1
percent, compared with a 0.7 percent increase in total TV households.
More striking, however, was the fact that upscale Internet
households ($50,000-plus in annual income) had total-day and primetime viewing increases
of 3.3 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively. In addition, television viewing by people
aged 12 to 24 dropped by nearly 7 percent during the period.
Discovery analyzed the television-viewing levels of 389
homes with Internet access during the fall of 1997, compared with viewing levels during
the prior year, when about 40 percent of those homes would not have had Internet access.
Bob Igiel, executive vice president of Young & Rubicam
in New York, doubted that any of the Discovery-commissioned study would be useful, based
on the small sample taken.
"No conclusions can be reached by sampling 389
people," Igiel said. "I don't think that's an indication of anything.
It's illogical to think that the time that you have to spend on the Internet
wouldn't impact on some television viewing. It may not, but it's
Despite Igiel's comments, most cable executives were
pleased with the study's results. And although young viewers were watching less TV in
general, many in the cable industry believe that they are watching more cable networks and
fewer broadcast stations.
Betsy Frank, executive vice president of research at MTV
Networks, said that although she has not seen the entire study, she was pleased with the
She added that in a similar study conducted by MTVN earlier
this year, it was found that the teen market -- the one most sought after by advertisers
-- is increasingly moving to cable networks.
"Kids and teens are the greatest multitaskers,"
Frank said. "They are more likely to use multiple media forms. Even though the
technology concepts are in the future, that behavior is here today."
Ingrid Gorman, director of programming research for
Discovery, cited another Nielsen study -- Nielsen's "Total Sources Viewing
Report" -- which showed that cable drew higher ratings and shares among teens than
broadcast did on a total-day basis in November 1997, the same period during which
Discovery's Internet study was conducted.
According to the Total Sources Viewing Report, broadcast
affiliates had a 1.4 percent rating and a 29 percent share among teens, while cable had a
1.7 percent rating and a 35 percent share.
And there are reams of research to back up the claim that
cable networks have a high percentage of young viewers. Franks pointed to a study
conducted by MTVN that asked children which channel they turned to first. An overwhelming
majority answered Nickelodeon, the children's network owned by MTVN.
"Here, we have a habit that kids are growing up
with," Frank said. "They are more comfortable with more channels and more
How that will translate into advertising dollars remains to
be seen. And not everyone is convinced that the Internet isn't taking away viewers
from both broadcast and cable.
Jon Mandel, senior vice president of Grey Advertising Inc.
in New York, said the 12-to-24 age group is one of the most difficult demographic
categories to accurately measure. Mandel also expressed some doubt that kids are turning
more to cable networks over broadcast.
"You've got some really serious research issues
when you research that demographic," Mandel said. "Name me a parent who knows
what their kids are doing at this very moment.
"This is not a cable-versus-network issue,"
Mandel added. "It is types of programming. Kids don't care if they're
watching network or cable. They have no allegiance to any cable network or broadcast