Please, can we get some perspective on industry numbers?

It was a busy Tuesday at Thinkbox towers last week – as well as telling us why, in their humble opinion, Netflix spent $100m on House of Cards, they also released the latest linear TV broadcast figures – and very happy reading they made for them as well.

According to the figures, total TV viewing in the home for 2012 was at four hours and one minute – a minute down on last year but 27 minutes up on 2002… do you remember 2002? That was the year Apple started to become the company it is today having just launched the iPod in November 2001. Is that a very comparable landscape? We’ve had a lot of change in the consumer technology landscape since then.

Thinkbox also reported that non-TV devices (including laptops and PC’s) accounted for three minutes of TV viewing a day. Hold on, just three minutes a day? That doesn’t sound right. Especially when you consider that C4’s Jonathan Allen was recently quoted by the Financial Times (Friday 18th Feb) stating that ‘Skins’ and ‘Made in Chelsea’ both achieved higher viewing numbers through its on-demand internet service than it did via terrestrial broadcasts.

Equally, whilst the industry will dismiss my own viewing habits because I work in media/advertising and live and work inside the M25, I am pretty sure my household alone must be genuinely responsible for one of those three minutes.

The press release also mentions that the findings include figures from BBC iPlayer. Again this surprises me. Stats from BBC iPlayer indicate that daily programme requests (TV) averaged over 4million a day across the whole of 2012 – although those programmes may only be three minutes long I suppose…

But my irritation isn’t directed at Thinkbox. When you are owned by C4, ITV, Sky, Turner and UKTV, it’s your job to promote the sale of commercial TV – it pays your wages after all. No, what irritates me is the fact the stats were reported far and wide without anyone challenging their accuracy.

Much like buyers exercise a healthy cynicism over publishers numbers we should, as an industry, demand some interrogation of all trade body stats. If the numbers stack up to scrutiny then we have a better idea of where we stand.

Clearly the linear TV industry in the UK is as strong as ever and on the new technology front most of the broadcasters are putting plans in place to develop their off-TV output. But with a lack of clarity or transparency around new technology consumption metrics, there is a natural hesitancy for the industry to gauge progress, regardless of user behaviour.

As a consumer, both ITV and C4 let me down with their on-demand products. They’re not available on Panasonic CTV’s or Apple TV, equally neither of their iOS applications will let me download programmes for consumption at my own leisure. The end result is that both broadcasters make up less than 5% of my viewing time and equally, I miss out on new promotions and further engagement with their services.

Obviously other people have different viewpoints, different usage behaviours and use different products. But I think the majority of people can relate to the BBC and their policy of making content available across as many devices and platforms as possible. As a result they are a clear market leader and see considerable, and sustained, growth in TV (and radio) on-device viewing.

It’s pretty unusual in any market for a state sponsored participant to be at the forefront of technological advances. And I fear that the commercial broadcast market is leaving itself wide open to further market disruption and new entrants based on technological advances.

So I’m asking for more perspective please on blindly reporting headline stats – not to denigrate any particular media but to actually keep driving our overall industry forward, push our successful incumbents to innovate and ensure we are better placed for technological advances.

  • TESS ALPS

    This is a bit rich, James.  There is no such thing as ‘healthy cynicism’. Healthy scepticism certainly, and all of the journalists who ran the story showed plenty of that. But your blog is incredibly cynical – borderline paranoid in fact. It also misses the point.

    The figures we put out were daily averages: 4 hrs, 1 min of TV on a TV set (90% live); 3 mins off the TV (mostly on-demand). That is perfectly compatible with the BBC saying there were 4 million requests a day or C4 highlighting some programmes with very high VOD numbers.  The online world uses numbers in millions and billions to impress and we suspect to cloud perspective.  TV numbers are so big they don’t fit onto calculators hence we prefer to use human-centric hours and minutes and percentages.

    The TV set viewing figures come from BARB, which is not just broadcaster funded but ad industry funded too. There is no more rigorous media measurement.

    The non-TV set viewing average is from minuteage data provided by all the broadcasters. Undoubtedly many people like you and your family watch more than 3 minutes a day. Many watch none. Some watch less than 3 minutes.  Does it help if you think of it more as three 30-minute episodes a month?  Does that sound so weird now?

    We were, like you, a bit surprised it was only 3 minutes a day, but this is exactly in line with BARB’s estimate of 1.2% of extra viewing on non-TV set devices (something they have been tracking since 2005). BARB estimates it is more for younger people, roughly double, so 6 minutes a day.

    And it will probably grow for all age groups, although with more connected TVs we’d expect some non-TV set on-demand to move to the best screen eventually.

    The reason we publish averages is precisely because we want the industry to have a more realistic perspective. Thinkbox is as platform-neutral as TV itself, but the breathlessness that has accompanied VOD viewing for years – often to the denigration of linear – has meant that some quarters of the industry have a warped view. An average is a good way to help restore balance. Since we were established (a few years after 2002 in fact) we have always talked about averages and we will continue to do so.

    We also think it is useful to show how TV was in 2002, as it gives a clear perspective on how it has changed – especially, as you point out, given how the tech world has evolved since then.

    There is something rather fantastic about a blog from someone who works in online video ranting about robust data from the TV industry because it doesn’t tally with what they reckon sounds right.  Nor do you offer any alternative numbers.  It was partly because of years of online industry ranting about its numbers that we were keen to publish an actual figure so everyone could gain a better sense of perspective. 

    And you are rather doing a disservice to the journalists who reported the figures if you think they did so blindly.

    • James Grant – VINDICO

      Hi Tess, without wanting to get into a comment tug of war I’m going to attempt to respond without being overly cynical.

      I agree with you on some of your points, particularly those around the online industry and the way they report numbers, its far too easy to throw out a large number, or a ‘benchmark’ figure which is actually based on claimed behaviour data and for those numbers to be become industry headlines. It’s actually the main point of my blog, which I’ll pick up further down. Furthermore I agree with your comment on connected TV viewing and anticipated viewing changes. Finally, I also agree with the way that Thinkbox present actual numbers and try to pitch a sense of perspective, in fact I haven’t ranted at all about the TV-on-TV numbers, or BARB and their TV media measurement.

      Whether deliberate or not you have also highlighted the main point of my blog – namely that some of the numbers could have, and in my opinion, should have, been better interrogated by the journalists you mention and indeed all of the industry commentators such as agency twitter accounts and respected individuals on all sides of the coin, all of whom inform client opinion. From your perspective your comments also seem to reflect a desire for some more robust interrogation of VOD numbers? It’s fair to say that the issue probably affects all media although I think TV and VOD have had their fair share of battling headlines over the years.

      Personally I would have liked to see more questions on the three minute number; I actually think three times 30 minutes a month is a much better headline as it is potentially more in line with broadcast programming lengths and less indicative of short form clips, which the three minute daily number may have implied to the casual observer. I also don’t think it would have been unreasonable to question BARBs methodology on non-TV viewing, after all this is still a relatively new area for them and there is a regular use of the word – ‘estimate’ around their numbers.

      I haven’t offered alternative numbers because there are many and the UK measurement landscape is firmly embedded in two different camps which have a methodology issue with direct comparisons – BARB on the TV side and Nielsen/Comscore (mainly) on the Online side – its interesting to note the developments in the US where it looks like there is more of a drive for a single measurement currency, at present I cant see an accepted resolution in the UK on that front, but I digress, that is a totally different topic.

      Having said all of that I would love to see Thinkbox present an off-TV number that stripped out those households where there is no off-TV viewing, its likely that dilutes the average and so it would be a clear indicator of how households actively combine on-TV and off-TV viewing. That might also be a number that could have more chance of a comparison with online measurement providers and provide a balanced viewpoint across the industry.

      Thank you for your comment, hopefully you, and the readers will see this for what it is – namely a debate on the way that trade numbers are reported and a request for some healthy scepticism to be applied before those numbers are turned into headlines.

    • http://www.facebook.com/roshan.reilly Roshan Reilly

      …..

  • James Grant

    Hi Tess, without wanting to get into a
    comment tug of war I’m going to attempt to respond without being overly
    cynical.

    I agree with you on some of your points,
    particularly those around the online industry and the way they report numbers,
    its far too easy to throw out a large number, or a ‘benchmark’ figure which is
    actually based on claimed behaviour data and for those numbers to be become
    headlines. It’s actually the main point of my blog, which I’ll pick up further
    down. Furthermore I agree with your comment on connected TV viewing and
    anticipated viewing changes. Finally, I also agree with the way that Thinkbox
    present actual numbers and try to pitch a sense of perspective, in fact I
    haven’t ranted at all about the TV-on-TV numbers, or BARB and their TV media
    measurement.

    Whether deliberate or not you have also
    highlighted the main point of my blog – namely that some of the numbers could
    have, and in my opinion, should have, been better interrogated by all of the
    industry who promoted them, regardless of journalists, agency twitter accounts,
    publishers or respected individuals on all sides of the coin – as we all inform
    client and industry opinion. From your perspective it also seems fair that your
    comments reflect a desire for some more interrogation of VOD numbers as well?

    Personally I would have liked to see more
    questions on the three minute number; I think three times 30 minutes a
    month is a much better headline as it is potentially more in line with
    broadcast programming lengths and less indicative of short form clips, which
    the three minute daily number may have implied to the casual observer. I also
    don’t think it would have been unreasonable to question BARBs methodology on
    non-TV viewing, after all this is still a relatively new area for them and
    there is a regular use of the word – ‘estimate’ around their numbers – although
    please note that on both the issues above I don’t think it is Thinkbox who
    should be posing those questions.

    I haven’t offered alternative numbers
    because there are many, and the UK measurement landscape is firmly embedded in
    two different camps which have a methodology issue with direct comparisons –
    BARB on the TV side and Nielsen/Comscore (mainly) on the Online side – its
    interesting to note the developments in the US where it looks like there is
    more of a drive for a single measurement currency, at present I cant see an
    accepted resolution in the UK on that front, but I digress, that is a totally
    different topic.

    Having said all of the above I would love
    to see Thinkbox present an off-TV number that stripped out those households
    where there is no off-TV viewing, its likely that dilutes the average and so it
    would be a clear indicator of how households actively combine on-TV and off-TV
    viewing. That might also be a number that could have more chance of a
    comparison with online measurement providers and provide a balanced viewpoint
    across the industry.

    Thank you for your comment, hopefully you,
    and the readers will see this for what it is – namely a debate on the way that
    trade numbers are discussed, and a request for some healthy scepticism to be
    applied before those numbers are turned into industry benchmarks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/roshan.reilly Roshan Reilly

      ….