Online use has caught up to TV viewing: IAB

December 05, 2013  |  Jeff Fraser  |  Comments

Canadians’ internet usage has finally caught up with TV watching, according to research released yesterday by IAB Canada and media agency PHD.

The annual Canadian Media Usage Trends (CMUST) report, delivered at yesterday’s IAB X-Series conference, estimated that the average Canadian aged 18-64 spends 1,735 minutes per week online and 1,728 minutes per week watching TV — or about four hours per day with both.

The new online number is much larger than previous CMUST estimates of online use, because for the first time PHD attempted to estimate how much time Canadians are spending online on all devices, including PCs, smartphones, tablets, game consoles and connected TVs.

Reliable traffic measurement is still not available for any devices except PC, but PHD modeled Canadian usage from comScore measurements of U.S. mobile and console usage, device penetration in Canada, and data from media providers.

Rob Young, PHD’s senior vice-president director of insights and analytics, presented CMUST‘s results at the IAB conference. “When we’re trying to understand the magnitude of media usage in this country, we have not been able to annunciate the size of the internet medium in a way that reflects reality, because we only have access to PC [usage data],” he said. “It makes it difficult for us to conceptualize the size of the internet versus the other legacy media.”

While CMUST‘s new methodology for estimating the scope of cross-platform internet usage needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as Young stressed, it is a step in the right research direction. And it has some surprising implications.

For one thing, PHD claims mobile has already surpassed desktop as the number one channel for Canadians to connect to the internet. The research showed that of the four hours Canadians spend per day online, 1.8 hours (43%) are spent on desktop computers, 1.9 hours (47%) are spent on mobile devices, and 24 minutes (10%) come from console and over-the-top (OTT) services like smart TV. PHD’s estimate of total internet usage from all devices was 2.5 times larger than PC usage alone.

Content-wise, video makes up 40% of the time Canadians are spending online, both on desktop and other devices, according to the study. Web-only online video properties such as YouTube and Netflix make up the lion’s share of video watched. Legacy media that have moved online haven’t found the same success and only make up a small fraction of the video Canadians are watching. On mobile, the vast majority time spent on the internet (86%) came from apps, rather than mobile browsers (14%).

However, not all the extra time Canadians are spending online has been stolen from other media. The study claimed that overall Canadian media usage, including the internet, TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, increased from eight hours per day in 2001 to 11 hours per day in 2013. But as pointed out by conference speaker Mary Beth Barbour, senior vice-president at Ipsos Reid, Canadians’ leisure time has not increased substantially – at least some of the growth in cumulative media use comes from viewers using more than one media source at a time (i.e. multi-screening).

According to the report, radio and print media reach continued to shrink in 2013. For TV, meanwhile, both audience size and average time spent watching have remained stable, and have even grown slightly over the last decade. In terms of reach, TV still dominates the internet — 99% of Canadians of all ages have access to TV, whereas only 78% have access to the Internet.

Young said that without more reliable figures for total internet use, rather than just desktop PC use, advertisers and agencies will continue to underestimate the reach and engagement of digital media and hold back investment.

“For example, [digital] video, as a share of ad revenue is relatively small compared to the massive amount of time that consumers spend with video,” he said. “You could probably say the same thing with mobile generally.

“The implication here is that if there is a gap in the knowledge, there is a gap in time before ad revenue catches up with consumer behaviour.”

However, with the expansion of comScore’s cross-platform measurement panels into Canada next year, Young hopes that CMUST will be able to provide a comprehensive picture of Internet use. “This means [comScore] will have the quantification of mobile time [usage], for the first time, in this country — and we’ll be able to get a look at 90% of what’s going on in terms of total Internet activity.”

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