What’s Really Happening with TV Viewing? A Second Look at Its Strength

A blog or two back I looked at the “Stürm und Drang” (thunder and lightning for those of you not into German) about levels of TV viewing. I concluded that the situation was not as dire as the industry was saying. This blog takes a second look and again confirms the underlying strength of TV.

Because there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics,” I looked at the data in three ways. First, I show that there is power in strong original content. Second, I look at an analysis of Rentrak data by a financial analyst that shows the stability in overall TV reach. Finally, I zero in on the individual components of live and time-shifted viewing.

I started out with the original episodes of the 13 strongest Primetime shows for February of this year versus February of last year (when the programs aired) to which Rentrak had Video on Demand (VOD) reporting rights. Original episodes are important because reruns have much less time shifting. As the chart below shows, there was an 18 percent growth of viewing to these episodes year-over-year, driven not by live, but by all the permutations of DVR and VOD time shifting.

TV Viewership Chart

One may say that the Olympics skewed the results. But the growth was across all the networks we track, not just NBC’s competitors (NBC hosted the February Olympics). Note also that these are not weight averaged by duration, leading to some differences in the overall average.

TV Viewership Chart 2

For the second analysis, following T.S. Eliot’s adage that great artists never borrow, only steal, let me show you some data from Brian Wieser, CFA, a Senior Research Analyst at Pivotal Research Group (brian@pvtl.com). In a release analysis, he focused on the value of reach to advertisers, and in fact, how reach for the top 20 networks has not fundamentally changed in the past four years.

Brian looked at monthly average reach from Rentrak for the top 20 networks for live viewing.[1] I’ve put his numbers into graph format for ease of observation. The minimum reach of any of the top 20 went up from 34 to 39 percent. There was a slight drop in the maximum live reach level from 80 to 76 percent. But, the average reach went up by one percent to 50 percent this year from 49 percent four years ago. So, bottom line, there has been some slight shifting at the bottom and the top, but overall reach is staying the same.

TV Viewership Chart 3

Finally, I did my own analysis focusing on Rentrak’s total hours of live, DVR (up to 15 days) and Video on Demand (VOD) viewing levels for Sept. 2013 through Feb. 2014 compared to Sept. 2014 through Feb. 2015. Our live and DVR viewing is projected from approximately 15 million households and the VOD playback comes from 114 million TVs. The chart below shows what I found.

TV Viewing Chart 3

First, there seems to be an overall 4.1 percent decline in TV viewing across live, DVR and VOD playback from the major sources (234 billion hours season-to-date versus last year’s 244 billion hours). The big driver in the loss is the level of live viewing. Live is down by 9.6 percent (193 billion season-to-date versus 214 billion hours last year). However, live viewing still accounts for 83 percent of total viewing hours. The uptick is in time shifting. The combined increase in DVR and VOD watching was 35 percent (30 billion versus 40 billion hours).

What is missing from the chart is the amount of streamed viewing through connected devices. Rentrak does collect streaming information, but it is currently proprietary to participating clients and as yet not included in our syndicated product line. Importantly, our internal analyses confirm that, based on the programs we do track, audiences across multiple screens are generally “whole” year-over-year. These facts suggest that consumers are watching at least as much TV content as ever—albeit at different times and on different screens.

So, bottom line, what do we have with TV?

  • Strong original content continues to grab viewers.
  • Overall reach is stable
  • People are watching TV as much as ever, just differently
  • Program audiences become “whole” when other viewing options are included

The death of TV is greatly exaggerated.

[1] Rentrak’s total hours of live, DVR (up to 15 days) and VOD viewing levels for Sept. 2013 through Feb. 2014 compared to Sept. 2014 through Feb. 2015. Brian Wieser, “TV: Reaching to the Converted,” April 10, 2015.

In case you don’t know, I am Bruce Goerlich, Chief Research Officer at Rentrak, the global standard in movie measurement and your TV Everywhere measurement and research company. I have been in the research end of the marketing business for more than 30 years primarily on the ad agency side, with my last stint prior to Rentrak in the role of President, Strategic Resources Zenith Optimedia North America. Somewhere along the way I morphed from young Turk to old fogey. Now that I have grey hair and am horizontally-challenged, I can speak with some authority on advertising and research issues – which I will do from time-to-time on this blog.


9 thoughts on “What’s Really Happening with TV Viewing? A Second Look at Its Strength

  1. Pingback: Engaging TV Audience with Social Media: Statistics and Opportunities | Broadcast Blog
  2. Found your findings very interesting. Wonder if data would change if your analysis was done in a non major holiday season. I’ve been in the DRTV Business close to 25yrs and have, in general, found that tv response starts dropping off around the 2nd wk of November; most likely due to people feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. Would be very Interesting to see what your data would show if viewership were tracked from the 2nd wk of January when people are getting back to their regular daily routine.

  3. Pingback: What's Really Happening with TV Viewing? | David Wertheimer
  4. Pingback: What’s Really Happening with TV Viewing? A Second Look at Its Strength | asi - Advertising seminars and conferences for European media advertising and marketing
  5. There has been a lot of talk about the growth of VOD and DVR. Thanks, Bruce, for quantifying size of that upward trend by using this method of tracking.

    As a former general manager of several local television stations, I am glad Rentrak’s return-path-data and advanced demographics from millions of homes will help local broadcasters and networks monetize their audiences. Also, I find it reassuring to see research that shows viewers continue to watch strong original content. My feeling is advertisers have been mislead about a decline in overall viewership by using rating information generated from small samples of LIVE viewing. As the way viewers watch original content continues to change, it becomes even more important for stations, networks and agencies to get more accurate rating information from massive and passive return-path measurement for VOD, DVR and streaming. Thanks.

    Dave Boylan

  7. Pingback: What’s Really Happening with TV Viewing? A Second Look at Its Strength | Diary Of A Media Man

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