Monday, 12 March 2012

No, Canadians are NOT Watching Less TV!

Since the dawn of the internet there has been an endless stream of articles claiming that the internet would result in the imminent demise of TV, not to mention radio, newspapers, bricks and mortar stores, banks, the post office and pretty much every other human activity, except eating and sex.  The decline of newspapers and a reduction in snail mail are real and undoubtedly caused by the internet.  The internet has affected almost everything that deals with the printed word. Who wouldn’t want at least occasionally to read the newspaper on line or send an email rather than go through the hassle of buying the paper or paying for stamps?  And, yes, I do most of my banking on line, which has saved me a lot of time (and money).    But, is the internet really taking time away from TV?

The answer is emphatically, no!  CMRI's Media Trends Survey has tracked usage and attitudes toward Canadian media, TV, radio and the internet, for the past ten years.  It is the only survey to have measured media use and attitudes continuously over this media centric, digital decade.  We have surveyed over 15,000 Canadians in this period, using a sophisticated survey instrument and a representative sample of respondents, not just those who are on-line, which is often the case in research today.  Most importantly, the Media Trends Survey is not sponsored by any one industry or affiliated with a media company.  Therefore, the surveys are scrupulously designed not to bias respondents into favouring one medium over another. 

In an earlier post we examined the monthly audience reach of the internet over the past 7-8 years.  In the chart below we track the weekly hours spent using the internet (at home, work or elsewhere). The surveys reveal that internet use basically doubled from 2004 to 2009, from just less than 6 hours per week to about 11 hours per week. But in the past 3 years internet use has stabilized at 10-11 hours per week. It may not grow much from this point on.

comScore, the internet ratings company that employs a sample of some 40,000 Canadians, reports basically the same levels of internet use as the Media Trends Survey. comScore reports data for 5,000 web sites; they could do more but feel that a '5,000 channel universe' is sufficient.  comScore reports that less than 5 % of internet use is with news and information sites.  Google and Facebook each account for more internet use than all news and information web sites combined.  Some perspective: this means that Canadians spend only about 30 minutes per week with news and information internet sites, Canadian as well as foreign.  The Globe and Mail’s web site, or, account for a tiny fraction of the 5%, each representing about 1/500th of all time spent using the internet in Canada, and therefore are unlikely in their present form ever to have the same impact as their print or broadcast versions.  This explains why web sites tout monthly audience reach (or unique visitors) rather than average minute audience or audience share of internet use, which take into account the time spent with a web site.   To compete in a 5,000 channel universe it seems new strategies are required.

TV use has been measured by the Media Trends Survey for ten consecutive years and it has been unaffected by the internet, remaining at about 19 hours per week through the decade, a decade when not only the internet but also many other media choices were introduced.  19 hours per week is less than ‘Nielsen’ ratings say but it is probably a more realistic estimate of the television audience.  Statistics Canada’s 2011 General Social Survey, conducted every 5 years or so and designed to measure how Canadians spend their time, mirrors the results of the Media Trends Survey.

Why has TV been so resilient?  There are a number of reasons, first among them is that programming is better and more relevant today than at any time in history.  HBO, The Movie Network, Superchannel, TSN, Sportsnet, Discovery, Space, A&E, Showcase and many other specialty channels have schedules filled with compelling programs that are superior to those of pre-internet times.  CNN, CBC News Network and another 5 or 6 news channels have the technology today to bring the viewer to any event or disaster in the world within minutes of it happening. Whether its news, sports or entertainment programming, choice today has expanded exponentially in quantity and quality.  In 2012 one can watch the latest movies or choose from a vast library of movies and TV programs on demand or watch an NHL game almost any day of the week on 3 or 4 different channels, including Saturdays, once CBC’s sacrosanct territory. As well, the older, established channels, including CTV, CBC, Global, and the U.S. networks have addictive new reality series, dramas that resemble Hollywood movies and comedy that makes The Cosby Show or Friends seem quaint. Not only are today's story lines, plot and execution of such high quality but producers and casting directors go to great lengths to showcase not only the most talented but the most beautiful people in the world.

Janina Gavankar of True Blood

Finally, in the past decade the TV set has undergone a revolution.  Today’s HDTV flat screen sets provide almost a cinema-like picture and prices for HD sets have plummeted in the decade.  All the channels mentioned above and many others now offer their entire schedule in HD, which can be accompanied by surround sound, equal to the best stereo system.  Cable and satellite companies have also made the viewing experience so much more convenient, offering pay per view, on demand and PVR services that ensure the viewer can watch favourite shows whenever they want.  We are in the golden age of TV and Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo and Google don’t stand a chance of replacing TV (unless they get into the TV business, which they are keen to do).

The 2011 survey results are from CMRI's Media Trends Survey conducted November-December 2011 among a representative national sample of approximately 900 Anglophone respondents aged 18-plus.  Margin of error +/-3.3%.  The Media Trends Survey has been conducted for ten consecutive years and has surveyed over 15,000 Canadians in total in this period. 

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