Blog Posts

In digital era, what does 'watching TV' even mean?

Originally published by Katherine Rosman, The Wall Street Journal, 9 October, 2013

We spend a full five hours and 16 minutes a day in front of a screen, and that’s without even turning on a television. 

So says a statistic from eMarketer, a research firm that focuses on digital media and marketing. It says that for the first time we are devoting more attention each day to smartphones, computers and tablets. All of which points to a big question: What counts as TV-watching today? 

We are actually watching more television programming, just from a growing range of devices and platforms, say digital and television executives, as well as academics and statisticians. Traditional TV or cable-network fare is now available online, via streaming services like Netflix or for sale to be watched on mobile phones and tablets. 

The report says that adults are watching their televisions slightly less — with a daily intake of four hours and 31 minutes this year, seven minutes less than in 2012. 

The increase in mobile devices and the multitasking they allow, plus the trend toward watching TV shows on devices other than televisions, is driving the changes measured in the report, says Clark Fredricksen, a spokesman for eMarketer. The study, which came out in August, is conducted twice annually. 

Although Americans are gravitating toward digital platforms and social networks, “in many cases, what’s popular comes from the large entertainment companies,” says James Webster, a professor who studies audience measurement and behavior at Northwestern University. “You can see mobile device usage growing, but it’s not eating into TV-watching,” says Colleen Fahey Rush, executive vice president and chief research officer of Viacom Media Networks. 

As networks provide new ways for people to access their programming, they’re creating new viewers too, says Albert Cheng, Disney ABC Television Group’s executive vice president and chief product officer for digital media. 

Nielsen — whose television ratings data factored into eMarketer’s recent report — disputes eMarketer’s findings. The rate of “TV consumption is healthy. If anything, it’s up from a year ago,” says Dounia Turrill, Nielsen’s senior vice president of client insights. “We don’t see any contraction on time spent with television sets.” 

Click here to read the complete article on The Wall Street Journal website.


Image: Gary Hovland

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