Twenty Percent of Primetime TV is Watched Online

Pundits argue that the computer is quickly on its way to becoming the primary source of delivering audio-visual entertainment. Others will argue that it's already happened. With over 12 billion videos watched online in the U.S. during the month of May, its hard to argue against the ubiquity of the PC as the king of media. To further this claim, market research company, Integrated Media Measurement Inc. (IMMI), has released a study that claims that almost 20 percent of primetime "episodic" television shows are watched online.

This number is an average representing IMMI's measurement of "3,000 teens and adults'" viewing habits of "fourteen primetime shows on two major networks during the fall of 2007 and spring of 2008." We feel that this dataset of only 14 primetime shows and two networks is actually too small to accurately generate an overall sense of people's viewing habits. As the report itself states, online viewing depends on "the genre of the content and the amount of time the show has been on the air." In other words, not all TV shows are created equal. In fact, as we reported last month, the season finale of Lost had almost as many people downloading the episode via BitTorrent as watched it live during the original broadcast. We advise to take the data generated from this report with a grain of salt; but the trends it hints at are nevertheless illuminating...

 Credit: IMMI
IMMI claims that of those individuals who watch "primetime network" television online, half of them are doing so instead of watching the shows on television. About one third of online viewers watch online to catch up on missed episodes or missed parts of shows. The remaining 20 percent are filling in their viewing with additional shows available online.

Contrary to what you might think, the largest age group watching "online episodic content" is not teenagers. In fact, 13 to 17-year olds represented the smallest size of the study's age groups. The age group most often watching primetime TV shows online is 25 to 44-year olds. And it even turns out that the 25 to 44-year olds are more likely to watch online than watch the shows on TV. Based on other metrics collected in the report, the demographic profile of the type of person most likely to watch "primetime shows online" is a 25 to 34-year old, caucasian, woman, making between $40K and $80K, with a college degree. Interestingly, the study also found that "those who view episodes online watch less television in general," and are "less likely to use a DVR."

Credit: IMMI

IMMI collects data by essentially "listening in" on the subjects, with their permission. Subjects are given special cell phones that record ambient audio:

"The IMMI phone randomly samples 10 seconds of room audio every 30 seconds. These samples are converted to digital signatures, which are uploaded continuously to the IMMI servers.

 Credit: IMMI
IMMI also tracks all local media outlets actively broadcasting in any given designated media area (DMA). To identify media, IMMI compares the uploaded audio signatures computed by the phones with audio signatures computed on the IMMI servers monitoring TV and radio broadcasts. IMMI also maintains client-provided content files, such as commercials, promos, movies, and songs.

By matching the signatures, IMMI couples media broadcasts with the individuals who are exposed to them. The process takes just a few seconds."

The idea of having ambient audio recorded every 30 seconds might give some concern over privacy. IMMI claims that what people say is never tracked. Those conversations, however, are saved on IMMI's servers along with the rest of the audio samples collected. Collecting data in this fashion has its advantages: as long as the subject brings the charged and powered-on cell phone with them wherever they go, data can be collected at out-of-home locations as well.

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