Tuesday 20 March 2018

Why can't the TV industry admit we've changed habits?

In the last year alone, it says, TV has lost between 0.4pc and 1pc audience in the US, mainly to the benefit of smartphones and smart TV devices
In the last year alone, it says, TV has lost between 0.4pc and 1pc audience in the US, mainly to the benefit of smartphones and smart TV devices
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

If you're in denial about something, you've got to expect others to question your version of events.

Ireland's Television Audience Measurement (TAM) agency, the body that reports on TV ratings, continues to insist that Ireland watches TV in the same way as it did years ago. All of the Netflix, tablets, smartphones and online TV players have apparently not had any effect on our traditional TV viewing.

It's not just a matter of media curiosity. Advertisers and media buyers rely on this kind of information. Right now, they're getting mixed signals.

Currently, TAM's statistics show a 25pc drop in viewership of ads among 15-34 year olds and housekeepers in the last two years. That is a startling figure. And it indicates some significant change in TV consumption, probably linked to a fall-off in live TV consumption.

TAM's explanation is an undefined reference to "fragmentation". But it insists - and this is the key part for advertisers - that there has been absolutely no fall-off in live TV consumption.

Nor are fewer people watching television in the traditional way, it says.

"The TV universes are more or less the same, the percentage reach is the same and the average time spent viewing is the same," said a spokeswoman for the ratings firm last week.

"The amount of them who watch live TV weekly has remained stable at around 90pc."

And that huge fall in viewership of ads?

"In relation to the number of ads being viewed, all media experience fragmentation," said TAM. "It is the nature of the industry and always has been."

It seems an incredible proposition: that there is no fall in our traditional TV viewing habits but we're somehow seeing less ads, even though there is no corresponding decline in the frequency of ads on those same stations.

Does this sound realistic? That we are all continuing to watch CSI Miami or Breaking Bad live, at the allotted broadcaster time on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening in the same way we did in the days of Dallas and Glenroe? And that somehow we are blanking when the ads come on in between programmes?

Ad agency executives I spoke to during the week questioned whether this reflects reality.

Other research also casts heavy doubt on the TAM statistical paradox.

"There is a clear shift towards online and DVR viewing," says the most recent international study from research analytics firm IHS. "Traditional broadcast television viewing is being overtaken by two forces - personal video recorders (PVRs) like Sky+ and online video from services like Netflix and the BBC iPlayer."

TAM's research partner, Nielsen, has also produced reports showing clearly that we have been moving away from TV for at least four years in other territories.

In the last year alone, it says, TV has lost between 0.4pc and 1pc audience in the US, mainly to the benefit of smartphones and smart TV devices.

Back home, research from Irish telecoms regulator Comreg shows that 14pc of people who have subscribed to online paid TV services here have stopped watching live or scheduled television, while 43pc say that it has caused them to watch less live or scheduled television.

The report says that 9pc of all households use Netflix, rising to 18pc in Dublin. On average, Netflix users spend seven hours per week using the service, it says.

Meanwhile, one of RTE's video partners - Ooyala - released figures last week showing that Ireland has the highest mobile video viewing figures in the world.

"The Irish watch more mobile video content than any other nation," it said, releasing its 2015 Global Video Index report.

And current research from Dublin-based analytics firm Statcounter shows that Irish people use our smartphones to get content more than almost any other western country.

Simply put, Irish people are now snacking on video content, including live broadcasts, on tablets, laptops, phones and Xboxes. In many cases, it's the same programmes as on conventional TV.

And it's not just 'young people'. We're all starting to adjust the way we watch telly. Our agencies will soon have to face up to it.

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