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Summary:

We’ve known for a long time that live TV was losing audience, but things might be worse for than we thought. New research shows that one-third of the adult viewing population in the U.S. has begun skipping live TV in favor of DVR and online viewing.

couch potato

We’ve known for a long time that live TV was losing audience, due to the growing popularity of DVRs and the proliferation of video content on the web. But things might be worse for live TV than we thought. According to new research from Say Media, 56 million Americans — or one-third of the adult viewing population — has begun skipping live TV in favor of time-shifted viewing and online content.

Say Media classifies the group as “Off the Grid” viewers, and says their viewing habits are not driven by “what’s on” but by “what’s available.” They work to avoid viewing TV advertising, either by time-shifting and fast-forwarding commercials, or viewing video online that typically has lower ad loads than on TV. All in all, the shift in viewing behavior has tremendous implications for the future of TV and video consumption, particularly as these viewers tend to be young, educated and influential. (For more info on TV audience behavior shifts, come see Nielsen’s Cheryl Idell at NewTeeVee Live on November 10.)

While characterized as “Off the Grid,” not all of these viewers are completely averse to live TV. Say Media characterizes “Off the Grid” viewers into two groups: On Demanders, which have shifted more than half of their video viewing on a DVR or online; and Opt Outs, which have tuned out of live TV completely.

Say Media says about 20 percent of all adult U.S. viewers fall into the On Demander category. According to its research, On Demanders watch less TV than they did a year ago (but still watch 30 hours of video content a week), and a majority of that viewing is happening when they want it. These viewers own an average of 5.4 devices for watching video, and 40 percent have mobile devices that support video viewing. Nearly half of them have Netflix subscriptions.

Opt Outs, meanwhile, comprise the 13 percent of online consumers that eschew live TV viewing completely in favor of on-demand, time-shifted and online content. Opt Outs are young, with 30 percent falling in the 18-24 demographic, and tend to be from urban areas (41 percent). They view less content in total — 21 hours compared to the 30 hours viewed by On Demanders and 25 hours from the total online audience average — and about half of that viewing happens online, even though Say Media reports that 90 percent of Opt Outs owns a TV.

It’s the Opt Outs that should scare the bejeezus out of cable operators and TV programmers. Due to their relative youth, it’s possible that the 30 percent of viewers aged 18-24 might never opt in to live video viewing. The more content that this group watches online — and they’re already getting more than half of their video from the Internet — the less likely they are to begin tuning into live TV on cable.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Keirsten Balukas.

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  1. With “Off the Grid” viewers watching TV online to avoid a heavy Ad load, it will be interesting to observe how much branded content and product placements take off in the online space, as this will require advertisers to find ways to become more integrated in content.

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