Guest Post: Evolution not Revolution: Stephen Leeds, Network Ten


Continuing on with the guest post theme this week, the below is a post by Network Ten’s National Sales Director, Stephen Leeds.

Yes, he’s a TV guy. But most importantly he’s a media guy … and probably knows the media space as well as anyone. It’s practically in his blood.

Read and enjoy, and if you like share and/or discuss

It seems you can’t go a day without some pundit proclaiming the death of television. Most of this commentary is long on opinion and light on facts.
 
Facts are good. Let’s start with a few.
 
TV viewing as measured by the OzTAM panel shows that there has been a decline in viewing from 2001. Eight years ago the average person watched three hours, seventeen minutes and fifty seconds each today, while in 2009 this is down to three hours seven minutes and ten seconds, a 5.4% decline.
 
On current trends this means viewing will drop below two hours per day. In 2074.

This doesn’t seem cause to reach for the suicide switch.
 
Of course nobody knows what viewing will be like in 2074, other than different. There will be major changes, and our understanding of what constitutes “television viewing” will change.
 
This isn’t news. In the 1990s we started talking about convergence between television, the Internet, and mobile communications. That’s what we’re seeing, a blurring of the boundaries. Is a TV show that is downloaded to an iPod television or online? What about a catch-up TV downloaded from a website but viewed on a television? Or a live sport broadcast that is simultaneously sent to a mobile phone?
 
A few things to bear in mind when answering this.
 
It’s helpful to remember that TV ratings simply a useful method for estimating the viewing audience for TV programs. We make assumptions to keep the measurement manageable: a person logged onto a meter connected to a particular television set is a viewer, a person who hasn’t logged on isn’t. While this gives us a decent estimate of overall viewing patterns it obviously doesn’t tell us anything about people who watch TV that falls outside of this definition.
 
So it isn’t necessarily the case that because the OzTAM figures are down people are watching less TV. We haven’t taken into account time-shift viewing, downloads, out-of-home, watching on a computer monitor, or any number of ways of viewing that didn’t exist when television first launched. It’s entirely possible that time spent viewing TV content is actually up.
 
The television industry is aware of these developments, and how we track viewing constantly evolves to capture these new forms of viewing. For example from next year we’ll be reporting time shift viewing. Currently all time-shifted viewing is simply left out of the analysis. Once this is factored back in we’ll see an “increase” in viewing that is more a reflection of better data capture than a change in behaviour.
 
There will be more changes in the future, and the ratings system will continue to be refined.
 
As for who is driving this changes, a closer look at the OzTAM data gives us a clear answer. In terms of time spent viewing we see a big difference in viewing by age. Viewing for over 40s is up, while viewing for under 40s is down.
 
The differences are unambiguous: 0-12s are spending 21% less time watching, 13-17s: -33%, 18-24s: -34%, 25-39s: -14%. Conversely 40-54s: +6%, 55-64s: +6%, 65+: +10%.
 
So the biggest changes are with younger Australians. Which makes sense, since they are the heaviest users of new technology.
 
New technology = new media choices, and with finite time people adopting a new medium will spend less time with other media, use them at the same time, or a mixture of the two.
 
We expect this tendency to increase. On the other hand it doesn’t hurt to keep some perspective on the how much “new media” is actually being used at the present time.
 
The average metro Aussie still spends just over three hours a day watching TV (3:07:10 to give the figures as of 4 August 2009. In May they spent 1:24:52 a day online at home+work, including email, etc, and only 0:46:42 on the Web.
 
That means average TV usage is more than twice as high as total Internet usage, and three times as high as web usage.
 
Even the lightest viewers, 18-24s, still spend an average of 1:40:08 watching TV each day.
 
If we are comparing “channels” let’s see how TEN measures up to the top two websites for 18-24s, NineMSN and Facebook. In May 683,000 18-24s visited NineMSN, and 635,000 visited Facebook. Last week alone TEN was watched by 898,000 18-24s, 31% more than NineMSN and 41% more than Facebook managed in a month.
 
(Source: Nielsen Netratings May 2009, OzTAM w/c 26/7/09, 0200-2600, five city metro)
 
This side of the story seems to get little coverage. The Internet is having an impact, but the scale is often overestimated.
 
Part of the problem is that there is a lot of faddism in digital. Currently Twitter is all the rage, and is going to change everything we know about the Internet. We seem to have forgotten that the same thing was said about YouTube, Facebook, blogs, MySpace, search, the World Wide Web, hyperlinks, email, ad infinitum.
 
All of these have made an impression to varying degrees, and new exciting applications continue to be introduced, but the evidence for a massive evolutionary change in consciousness is thin to non-existent. The data suggests that we’re talking evolution, not revolution.
 
One of the issues that arises in connection with new media has to do with user control. It’s not at all clear that this is necessarily a good thing. Years ago Pay TV experimented with letting viewers select their own camera angles for sports coverage. It flopped. Why? Because a great deal of viewing is relaxation time, and most viewers are quite happy for a professional to do the work selecting the best shots while they kick bag with a beer and yell at the ref.

That’s not to say there is no role for interactivity. SMS and tweets are being used now to varying degrees, and some shows will likely benefit from this more than others: SMS has been a feature for viewer voting for years, The Today show on Nine often plays off viewer responses, and we’ve had online sessions with the talent from Supernatural at the end of the show.
 
This is largely toe-in-the-water stuff, but it’s still not clear if there is a role for massive innovation in this space. It’s a work in progress, and there may still be a brilliant innovation that really brings it alive.
 
Is TV the web’s killer application? In my opinion, no. The Internet is still a largely text-based medium, and probably will remain so.
 
The reason why is that print still offers large advantages for many purposes. Compare a video email instead a text-based one. The latter can be scanned in a few seconds, or read leisurely for as long as the user wants. Video viewing is dependent on the length of the message. Text can be searched, while this is harder than video. It is simple to select elements from text and re-purpose, while this requires special applications and more time with video.

Even in the entertainment space text is still popular. The Onion (www.theonion.com) is introducing more video, but the print material still forms the bulk of the content, for reasons of ease of production and usage, and arguably is still their best material.
 
As for the future, with addressable and targeted communications, this is very hard to predict. There is an enormous amount of innovation going on in this space, and I suspect that the technology that will make this work probably hasn’t been invented yet. I have little doubt that it will, because the benefits to advertisers and consumers are so strong that there is a great deal of unarticulated demand for it. I believe that once it is introduced that consumers will find it hard to imagine a time when ads weren’t closely targeted at them.
 
All told, while we are looking at a great deal of change, the underlying behaviours haven’t changed that much. People still read, still listen, and still like looking at moving pictures. Television is still the dominant medium in most people’s lives, and the current broadcast model is likely to remain the dominant medium for the foreseeable future.

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2 responses to “Guest Post: Evolution not Revolution: Stephen Leeds, Network Ten

  1. Nice piece, I think it is great to put it back into perspective.

    Since starting to work in digital/social media I have converted from the revolutionary garble to a more realistic evolution of advertising/marketing.

    Social Media Spruikers (which I used to be one of, just ask Ben) have all these grand plans of what businesses should be doing but they do not understand the inner workings of a business/client (the politics and road blocks). They think that a business will just be able to turn around tomorrow and hire a community manager and talk one on one with every person on the internet. Error.

    Kudos to you Ben for bringing fresh opinions out. Keep em coming.

  2. Stephen, an excellent post that hopefully brings some balance and perspective across the media landscape.

    As a matter of fact I put some similar comments and data up on MediaPost last night regarding Twitter. I read so many articles saying that Twitter and other social media are where a client’s marketing spend should be headed as they are such personal and engaging media vehicles. However, research into Twitter (arguably a bigger “buzz” than even Facebook in the social media sphere) show that a quarter of its registered users have either never tweeted or have given up (remember the median number of tweets is n=1), a quarter tweet daily, while a half are daily “peekers”. Compare that to the “dying dinosaur” of television in Australia where on the average day 70+% of the population watch TV (and not just registered users – the entire population), rising to 90+% in a week, and 97+% in a month.

    I raise this data as there are multiple dimensions to ‘engagement’ (if indeed there are any dimensions that are measurable) one of which is repeat usage. The above data would give a big tick to television and a FAIL to Twitter. I’m not saying that Twitter is not good, big, fun (not that I would know as I am not registered), important, useful etc … but that for beyond our sphere and in the wider population there is a different story.

    Stephen also raises the issue of TV viewing down in the under 40s and up in the over 40s (if he hadn’t, I would have). My belief is that this is correlated to time-shifted viewing – the younger are big shifters and the older aren’t. If the UK and US scenarios are repeated in Australia – and we won’t know until the start of 2010 – then I would expect around half of that drop from 2001 to 2009 to be regained by the inclusion of time-shifted viewing. That is, TV has been under-reporting in-home viewing for some years. And as Stephen points out, away-from-home, IPTV, catch-up TV etc aren’t being enumerated as well – the problem being it becomes incrementally more expensive to measure smaller audiences.

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