Business Irish

Saturday 24 March 2018

Viewing habits are changing but video hasn't killed the TV stars just yet

We're watching television on laptops, tablets and phones. Subscription services such as Netflix have gone from niche market to mainstream. But while our viewing habits are changing with technology, there's still life in the traditional television set

Netflix smash: Orange is the New Black
Netflix smash: Orange is the New Black
Michael Cogley

Michael Cogley

Irish television viewing habits are changing. There is a move towards more on-demand services streamed over the internet but the move to digital is not total and is not happening at the pace that some might have expected.

While companies like Netflix highlight the freedom that its on-demand services give viewers, Sky says consumers still hold well-scheduled television dear.

Whatever way we look at it, our video consumption is up.

"It is a really exciting time in our industry," said Mark Deering, director of corporate affairs at Sky Ireland.

"Average daily minutes of video consumption is up over 20pc in the last five years. While live TV remains strong, more and more is being consumed on demand and away from the home."

According to the latest figures from Television Audience Measurement Ireland (TAM), the amount of time people spend watching live television has actually increased over the last 10 years.

The TAM figures say that average TV consumption increased by 23 minutes since 2005. However, TAM has been criticised in the past by advertisers, who believe that it has the tendency to reflect favourably on scheduled TV.

One of the companies looking to disrupt the traditional Irish TV model is telecoms provider Eir, which now offers TV services as part of so-called quad play bundles.

The director of brand and communications at Eir, Lisa Comerford, says that the introduction of high speed broadband has caused huge diversity in the way we consume television.

"TV is still one of Ireland's favourite pastimes but the way we watch has definitely changed; the increase of devices such as tablets and smartphones - as well as smart TVs - has opened up a whole new viewing experience.

"This kind of option simply would not have been possible a few years ago without the kind of digital infrastructure we have now," Comerford said.

While Netflix doesn't release official figures based on its viewership by country, independent surveys have reflected its growing popularity across Ireland.

A recent study conducted for Eir said Netflix use in Ireland increased by 50pc in 2014. Another study by Comreg and Red C found 9pc of those surveyed used Netflix as a secondary method for watching television. One of the demographics that have taken to the video-streaming giant in Ireland is mothers.

A spokeswoman for Netflix Ireland said some mothers have swapped traditional subscription television altogether.

"The mothers love it. A lot of them have actually given up their subscriptions just to go with Netflix and Saorview and that fulfils their family entertainment.

"People are happy with Saorview; they get their channels and for everything else then they have their Netflix," she said.

Comreg's ICT Consumer Survey has estimated Netflix use among its Irish customers. It says that 33pc of those who use the service watch between zero and three hours a week while 35pc watch between four and six with the remainder watching more than seven.

Comreg's ICT Consumer Survey reflects a move from paid premium television services to Saorview.

Both provide very different services so there is a huge price difference, which may be a contributing factor to its rise in popularity over the last few years.

A Netflix subscription starts at €7.99, while Sky's cheapest 'Original' bundle costs €29.50, which is €5.50 cheaper that Virgin's entry-level 'Horizon'.

UPC (Virgin) experienced a larger fall of 20.7pc while Saorview's use as the primary television source in the home more than doubled.

Sky doesn't release figures specific to the amount of set top boxes they have across Ireland. However, it is understood that AC Nielsen's estimation that there are around 700,000 set top boxes across the country is relatively accurate.

Diversification of its products seems to have become one of Sky's main avenues, given that its customer base has grown over the last year.

"In our last financial year, we achieved our highest rate of customer growth in 11 years, adding more than half a million new customers to take us past the milestone of 12 million across the UK and Ireland - and this is while Netflix has also been growing well," Deering said.

"People tend to view Netflix as an add-on to what they get from Sky rather than an alternative. We know there is also a high rate of crossover between Sky Movies customers and Netflix demonstrating that they are complementary products," he added.

Sky hasn't ruled out leaving satellite entirely in the future, saying it isn't committed to one particular method of distribution.

"As it stands, you cannot match the quality of viewing experience at genuine scale of satellite using over-the-top (OTT) infrastructure and this will be even more the case when so called ultra high definition is introduced," a spokesman said.

"However, we are not wedded to a certain distribution technology, our hybrid broadcast and IP platform means we're really well-placed to respond to changing customer needs."

Sport as well as other one-off television events will likely remain impervious to change in terms of live viewing but that does not mean the technology will stay the same.

Eir's Lisa Comerford said: "There is no doubt that 'event TV', such as last week's Late Late Toy Show on RTE and live sporting events like the Rugby World Cup on TV3 and All Ireland Senior Football Finals, still has a massive pull and viewing numbers reflect that."

RTÉ is also playing a role in the change in television consumption. The state broadcaster launched its 2016 Season offering for GAAgo, the online streaming service that allows people to watch Gaelic games abroad. RTE says that it has seen a 55pc increase in its user base for its online GAA streaming service.

The media rights manager at the GAA, Noel Quinn, said that keeping pace with technical innovation was vital to the future of the association.

"Making our games readily available using the latest technological innovation is crucial to the association staying current," Quinn said.

According to Eir's Connected Living survey, 37pc of those questioned use services like RTE Player, TV3 Player and 4oD. Comreg's survey revealed that scheduled TV viewing among those with Netflix has, for the most part reduced the amount of live TV they consume. Over 55pc said that they now watch less scheduled TV than before they got Netflix.

Comreg's figures are in line with most accounts. Television viewing habits in Ireland are changing. There is still an enormous user base for paid, scheduled, satellite services but that may change in the future.

While the delivery systems are in flux in which we receive television is likely to change, the existence of scheduled television in Ireland doesn't seem to be in any immediate danger.

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