TV and the internet
Mar 22nd 2011.
A FEW years ago, some media executives feared that people were abandoning television for the internet. That hasn’t happened. The most rigorous studies show that television-watching has not declined—if anything, it has increased. Couch potatoes are learning to multi-task, watching TV while tapping away at their laptops or smartphones. But how much do they multi-task, and what websites do they visit? New numbers from Nielsen, a firm that tracks all sorts of old- and new-media consumption, provide some answers.
The most striking thing is that multi-tasking is still fairly rare. During this year’s Academy Awards, only 11.6% of viewers used the fixed web at some point (Nielsen measures simultaneous TV-computer use but not yet TV-mobile use). Those who went online during the programme were connected to the internet for just over 30 minutes, or about 15% of the show’s duration. The pattern was similar during the Superbowl. Even during the Grammys, a pop awards ceremony that attracts young viewers, people who went online only did so for about 20% of the programme’s length.
Television is an extraordinarily dominant, absorbing medium that sucks up far more time than the internet. In December 2009, Nielsen estimated that 34% of internet users had the television on while surfing the net. But when tuning in for a programme, television-watchers used the internet only about 3% of the time. This dominance goes a long way to explaining why television has so far resisted the disruptive effect of technology.
And what do people do online while they are watching television? Most of all, they mess around on Facebook. According to Nielsen, Facebook was the most popular website during the Superbowl, the Grammys and the Academy Awards (normally Google is the most popular). AOL.com also got more attention than it normally does. But the big winner was Zynga, a maker of free games. Its most famous game, Farmville, ranked 51st in overall web traffic during February 2011.
This is both good and bad news for old media firms. Good news because it suggests that television continues to attract audiences. Bad news because it is clear that efforts to encourage television viewers’ online behaviour (“visit our website!”) have not yet borne substantial fruit.
TV still rules in the media war.