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Online Viewers Haven't Abandoned Traditional TV, According to Nielsen Study

by Gary Susman, posted Nov 15th 2010 5:00PM
Coaxial cableLooks like the cable and network TV industries can breathe a small sigh of relief. Conventional wisdom may suggest that the growing number of people who stream their favorite shows from the Internet to their TVs will give up their cable TV subscriptions, but actually, that's not happening.

So says a new study from the Nielsen company, as cited by the Hollywood Reporter. According to the study, only 3 percent of viewers who stream online content to their TVs are canceling cable. Some 84 percent of such viewers say they are watching as much or more regularly scheduled TV than they did before they began Web-to-TV streaming.

And 53 percent of streaming viewers say the Internet has introduced them to shows that they then began watching on regular, scheduled TV.

In the parlance of the study, then, there are a lot more "cord keepers" than "cord cutters."

"We've learned that new technologies are providing additional opportunities for viewers to access TV shows and movies, at their convenience," said Char Beales, president and CEO of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, which commissioned the study.

"But it's supplementing viewing of regularly scheduled TV, not replacing it."

The Nielsen study, entitled 'Life Is a Stream,' presents a somewhat more optimistic picture for the industry than a recent Harris Interactive online poll. According to the Reporter, 22 percent of the Harris poll's respondents said they had downgraded or canceled their cable service over the past six months, while another 21 percent said they've thought about doing so.

Of course, an online poll like that may be self-selective, drawing people who are more Web-savvy and less dependent on their cable providers to lead them to their favorite programming. Most viewers, however, probably don't fit that category. For one thing, according to the Nielsen study, only 11 percent of the entire U.S. population has streamed programming from the Internet to their TVs.

Coaxial cableAnd just because the Harris respondents have considered cutting their cables doesn't mean they'll actually do so. At GigaOm's recent NewTeeVeeLive conference in San Francisco, a show-of-hands poll among techheads found that only 4 percent had given up cable TV for streaming content.

The poll taker, consulting firm Evermore Partners, concluded that "
aspirational cord-cutters are talking the talk but not walking the walk."

It's understandable that the TV programmers would see streaming as a threat. The four broadcast networks have all moved to block Google TV from streaming their shows from the Web to Google-enabled televisions. They're worried about losing both of their revenue streams (cable subscription fees and advertising dollars) if viewers can bypass traditional broadcast and cable signals to stream shows from the Internet.

But they really shouldn't be surprised by the Nielsen study results that contradict those fears. For one thing, there aren't that many early adopters yet; as the Nielsen study notes, 89 percent of us aren't streaming.

And while those who do may not mind hooking up a Boxee or Roku or Apple TV or Revue device up to their sets, most of us don't want yet another box and its wires adding to the clutter surrounding our TVs.

Most of all, as the Nielsen study suggests, the channels should be embracing Web TV as a marketing tool instead of blocking it as a menace. Streaming from Web to TV is introducing viewers to shows they might not otherwise have watched -- and then getting those viewers to watch the shows on traditional TV.

It's analogous to the situation the music industry faced a decade ago, when file-sharing introduced tech-savvy music fans to songs and artists they might not otherwise have heard of and got them to buy music online if it was legally available. Unfortunately, in the years before iTunes, it often was not legally available because the industry had decided that easily-downloadable MP3s were a threat instead of a marketing tool.

What music fans couldn't buy, they simply obtained for free, costing the record labels untold millions. The TV industry should be wary of imitating the music business' short-sighted technophobia.

Besides, it's the Web's social-networking aspect that could help keep cable and broadcast as we know them alive. After all, a show's Web-savvy fans will often gravitate to blogs like TV Squad for timely episode recaps and discussions. Which means they have to watch (or record) the shows when they're broadcast, rather than wait for them to show up the next day on the Internet.

•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.

Do you stream shows from the Internet to your television? Have you considered cutting off your cable?

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Sam the Deaf

Simple! There aren't every Closed Caption at online TV than compare to Traditional TV!

There are over 30 million people with loss hearing or deaf (hearing impaired) alone in US. Studio need to make sure they bring up more at online!

November 16 2010 at 10:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That people who go on the Jerry Springer show are unusually willing to share their personal information. No big surprise there.

November 16 2010 at 4:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well if the horribly flawed system says it, it must be true...

November 15 2010 at 10:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I went back to school and said goodbye to cable two years ago... while I don't really miss it. The convenience and quality of HD DVRs makes me wonder that if I'll go back once my debt is paid off. It makes no sense for me to go back now, as the only thing that I really miss are live sports, but that's what bars are for.

November 15 2010 at 5:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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