In contrast to my assertion that interactive TV was struggling
, video search engine Blinkx claims
that we are now a nation of interactive TV users. And although Blinkx doesn't repeat the phrase, the same could presumably be said of the US, where it carried out similar research
and found, guess what, very similar results: in the UK, nearly 70% of online adults go online while watching TV; in the US the figure is even higher - 78%.
Now this is clearly not the same version of interactive TV that "interactive TV" companies like OpenTV and NDS like to talk about, or that telcos and cable companies hope will add value to their digital TV services. The two-screen version, however, is certainly successful anecdotally, and this research gives some idea of the scale of media multitasking across the population. Anyone with kids knows they just can't sit watching TV any more - would that life were so simple! If a wireless laptop is available they'll have that in front of them, and a mobile phone and games console nearby at the same time. It's a phenomenon that applies increasingly to all age groups, and it represents another of the many concerns facing the traditional television industry as it struggles to keep its viewers focused on the big screen.
Blinkx's research is a valuable input, but we should put the findings in some context. The survey looked at online users only, who are certainly in a majority in both the US and the UK, but 25% of households in the US and 36% in the UK are still not connected to the Internet (but presumably do, at least the vast majority, watch TV). So the survey numbers should be re-based to account for this. There is also the issue of frequency. By my calculations based on the Blinkx survey results I estimate that around 25% of all TV viewers in the US are regularly surfing the net while watching TV, and 20% in the UK.
And of most concern to the TV industry is the finding that very few two-screen viewers are using their PC in a way that's related to what's on TV. 19% of US respondents and only 15% in the UK are actually searching for content related to what's on the big screen. So what are they doing? Again, the usual suspects:
- checking email (58% UK, 53% US)
- surfing the web for content that is not
related to what they are watching (37% UK, 32% US)
- paying bills (26% UK, 22% US)
- interacting with others (24% UK, 18% US)
- shopping (32% UK, 17% US).
So putting it all together, it seems that around one in five or six TV viewers on both sides of the Atlantic are in fact being at least partially lost to the TV industry (and its advertisers) because much of their attention is on other web-based activities which are not related to the TV programme, even though the TV is switched on. TV broadcasters recognise this implicitly by the fact that they are putting so much energy into finding ways of reaching web users, but the scale of the impact is perhaps not yet fully appreciated.
Of course, the question of attentiveness and how consumers absorb information and messages from different media is too complex for any online survey to investigate fully. TV viewers have always been tempted by distractions of one form or other, and the web is just one of the latest alternatives.
Digital Disruption: Imminent and Long Term Threats to the Audiovisual Industry