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As TV Viewing Habits Evolve, What Does it Mean for Advertisers?

There’s a lot of talk in the advertising and media world about the decline of TV viewership. The recent decline in viewers for the NFL’s Sunday broadcasts, long the “gold standard” of live TV viewing, for example, generated a lot of coverage. But research by GfK, highlighted in MediaPost, reveals that what appears to be a decline in TV viewing is not as straightforward as it seems. A number of factors, from demographics to measurement, to a misunderstanding of consumer viewing choices as a “zero sum” game, all play into the confusion. Here’s what we do know about consumers’ TV viewing habits:

TV viewing is still very important for most viewers
A quick glance at recent drops in TV audiences does seem to play into the narrative that “TV is in decline.” But making this kind of generalization oversimplifies the reality. While other methods of watching may be growing in popularity, TV remains a staple for consumers. 62% of GfK’s sample of US viewers said live TV is “very important” and is their favorite way to consume video content. GfK also notes that live sports and special events are a key factor in this response.

Millennials are skewing overall TV habits
Viewing habits of millennials are noticeably different from those of older generations. For instance, they’re watching a lot more streaming content and using more devices. But even as millennials adopt a variety of new devices and services to watch TV, the large screen TV remains popular for all generations. In fact, when GfK looked at viewing habits in aggregate across all age groups, 61% of total viewing time was spent watching traditional TV.

Streaming viewers are “additive” to total audiences
Another misconception about the decline in TV viewership is that new online services are “cannibalizing” the audience for TV content. In other words, there is a set audience of TV viewers and they either choose to watch streaming content or to watch TV. Research suggests this simply is not the case. GfK found that 52% of consumers with a traditional TV subscription have also subscribed to at least one streaming service. And among those that stream, 75% said they also have a traditional TV subscription.

Measuring non-traditional TV viewing is still tough
Last but not least, TV advertising measurement is still struggling to catch up with the rapid shifts in audience habits. This makes it more difficult for companies like Nielsen to correctly estimate the audience that uses any given non-traditional viewing device. That should start to change as the company’s “Total Audience Measurement” solution officially rolls out in the next several months, offering advertisers a more accurate look at where viewers are watching TV and why.

TV viewing habits are undergoing a profound shift with important consequences for advertisers. One thing that is growing abundantly clear is that cross-platform campaigns are more important than ever for brands as viewers draw less of a distinction between TV and video viewing. The two are increasingly complementary, working together to help advertisers reach their desired audiences.