TV still the super media?

The future of television seemed to be a hotly contested topic last week. According to Playback Online, a report was published by Deloitte Canada stating that “in 2011, television will solidify its status as the current super media, defying some commentators’ prophecies of imminent obsolescence”.

They also reported that at a conference last week Paul Kedrosky, an investor and business writer who made his name in the tech sector, offered his belief that TV use will decline as it becomes a medium only used for live-event broadcasts.

Both sides squared off at the conference. Duncan Stewart, the report’s co-author and director of research, technology, media and telecommunications at Deloitte Canada, apparently defended his position at a following Q&A session, saying: “Every year, we say TV hours cannot increase, but every year they do… I can’t understand why people pay as much as they do or watch as much as they do, but they do.”

One of the findings of the report which resonated with me was “despite more sophisticated gadgetry, television viewing remains largely a passive activity”. As consumers of entertainment, we don’t want to have to work too hard at it. One of the basic tenants in television programming is that to build and sustain your audience you need regularly scheduled series. What audiences want is to see their favorite shows at the same time each week. Appointment television.

With that is married the water cooler effect: People hanging around the water cooler talking about what they saw on TV the night before. And that effect can only be achieved by generating mass audiences. Where TV beats online as a platform is that it can generate a mass audience at a single moment in time.

An article published by the Toronto Star in May of this year reviewed data from the U.S.-based Council for Research Excellence (CRE) which had published an ambitious and landmark Video Consumer Mapping Study in the summer of 2009.

As the Star article noted: Yes, there is an incredible growth in online viewing but this is being measured from a tiny base. In North America, “100 hundred million people watching an average of three to four hours a month online sounds like a really big and impressive number until you compare it to 300 million people watching well over four hours of television per day!”

The CRE study determined that when you add up television use in the home, watching video on the Internet and watching video on mobile, television’s share is a massive 99 per cent. And that even among the younger age groups (18-24 and 25-34) the television share was 98 per cent. It also noted that PVR penetration in Canada is currently at about 20 per cent but those who own PVRs generally only use them for a fraction of the time they watch television. Nielsen’s and BBM’s conclude that 97 per cent of television in Canada is watched live.

So while these days people may be spending time on multiple devices during an evening that was once devoted exclusively to television, (and certainly anyone with a family can confirm how their kids interact and multi-task), the fact remains that television is still the super media in delivering mass audiences.

At the same time, online and social media use has grown in staggering numbers in a relatively short amount of time. Maybe these days it’s a virtual water cooler in a virtual office, but the principle is the same – people want to connect and discuss their favorite shows, characters, moments. This could well be where online beats TV. Yet according to Deloitte Canada, social media advertising is expected to remain minuscule at less than 1% of worldwide spend in 2011.

The technological challenges are still out there for online and mobile applications and the marrying of TV and the internet through the likes of Google TV. But these challenges will be overcome. And maybe they will knock TV off its pedestal sooner or later, but I am on the side of Deloitte Canada, it won’t happen in 2011.

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