Nielsen Says Live TV Viewing Fell Slightly

The amount of time spent watching live TV dropped in the second quarter but the erosion is slowing, according to a new report from Nielsen.

According to Nielsen’s second-quarter Total Audience Report, video consumption habits in the U.S. continue to change as viewers get ahold of more digital devices, but live viewing remains dominant and changes appear to be moderating except when it comes to  mobile, which is still gaining steam.

"People spent 4 hours and 9 minutes per day on live TV, down 2 minutes from 4:11 in the second quarter of 2015,” Nielsen said. Live viewing dropped 8 minutes per day from 2014 to 2015.

Related: Nielsen Sees 0.8% Drop In Pay-TV Homes in October

The number of homes with subscription video on demand continued to rise, hitting 53% in the second quarter, up from 45% a year ago.

Time shifted viewing on DVRs was up one minute to 39 minutes per day. Internet use was up on PCs, to 57 minutes from 43 seconds, and the most noticeable increase came in the amount of time using apps.

On smart phones, app use rose to 1:43 from 1:09 and on tablets they jumped to 32 minutes from 20 minutes. App use was just one minute per day on smart phones and 13 minutes on tablets.

Related: Survey—More Consumers Intend to Cut the Cord

The big gain was partly caused by a change in the way Nielsen measures mobile device usage.

“In March 2016, a legacy crediting rule that capped usage on iOS devices at 30 minutes was removed, so that if panelists with these devices use an app or visit a website for more than 30 minutes, all that usage is now credited. However, we estimate that usage would have been up 42% even without this methodological change,” said Glenn Enoch, senior VP, audience insights, at Nielsen.  

Enoch noted that a similar change affecting Android devices took effect in August 2016, which will impact the third quarter Total Audience Report.

Related: Nielsen to Phase in Total Content Ratings

Perhaps reflecting cord cutting and cord shaving, the number of channels available to the average viewer declined, and with it, the average number of channels viewed. In May 2016, viewers had an average of 205.9 channels available, down from 208 a year ago. They watched 19.8 channels, down from 19.9 channels.

In homes with streaming subscription video on demand access, even fewer channels are viewed. Among all adults, the number of channels viewed per month in SVOD homes was 18.6, compared to 19.8. Fewer channels were viewed by younger viewers, and even fewer of those viewers had access to SVOD. For example, viewers in the 18-to-34 year-old millennial group watched 14.9 channels on average. With SVOD in the home, the number of channels dropped to 14.3.

But Nielsen warned about reading too much into the findings from a single quarter.

Related: No More Paper Diaries for Nielsen Local Ratings

"Nielsen’s research has consistently demonstrated that viewers watch a relatively small percent of the television networks available to them, but that over the years, both channels available and channels viewed have increased,” said Glenn Enoch, senior VP, audience insights, at Nielsen, the author of the report.  “However, we now find that channels receivable has started to decrease somewhat, as a result of lower multichannel penetration and cord-shaving. We also see that the number of different channels viewed is also lower, though by a very small amount – just one less channel over two years for the average adult TV viewer.”

While cord-shaving is relatively new, other factors also affected channel use.

“In general, the more time spent watching TV, the more different channels viewed – this is a consistent finding across various race and origin groups as well as different age groups,” Enoch said. “As TV viewing levels go down, we would expect consumers to watch fewer channels, but we should be cautious in making assumptions about causes.”

Related: Nielsen Universe Rises to 118.4M Households

For example, he said adults in homes with subscription video on demand access watch fewer TV channels. While this is partly due to increased device usage in SVOD homes, those with SVOD access are generally younger and more affluent. That also correlates with lower TV viewing.

“It would be incorrect simply to characterize these shifts as a result of ‘new media’ encroaching on ‘traditional media,’” Enoch said.

The number of pay-TV homes—described by Nielsen in the report as cable plus—was down 2% to 98.7 million.

Related: Bahakel Signs Renewal of Nielsen Ratings Deal

Wired cable homes were up 2% to 53.4 million, while home getting video from a telco fell 17% to 11.2 million. Satellite subscribers edged down to 34.5 million from 34.9 million.

The number of homes with broadband only went up 24% to 4.1 million. The number of broadcast only homes rose 8% to 13.6 million.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.