Study: Lines Blurring Between Linear TV, Digital Viewing

Linear TV and digital content viewership is looking more similar than ever before, according to a recent report from advanced advertising company FreeWheel, with advertisers buying across both platforms at an increased rate.

According FreeWheel's  Video Marketplace Report, which surveyed more than 200 advertisers and agencies, more than half (52%) of agencies are already combining the buying of digital and linear TV today, with 91% saying they will do so by 2021. In addition, 74% of the advertisers surveyed said it is important or very important to have integrated digital video and linear TV/data technology solutions.

According to FreeWheel, a unit of cable operator Comcast, the data set used for the VMR report is one of the largest available on the usage of professional, rights-managed video content worldwide, and is based off of census-level advertising data collected through the FreeWheel platform.

The VMR -- formerly the Video Monetization Report -- also looked closely at convergence trends in the industry, adding that tentpole sporting events like the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, FIFA World Cup and Super Bowl LII were viewed increasingly online. According to the VMR, NBC Sports digital coverage of the Winter Olympic Games set a new record in 2018, with 2.17 billion streaming minutes and an 11% lift in its linear only audience.

That increasing comfort with digitally delivered content helped fuel 86% growth in live content ad views during the year, said the VMR. Premium video was shared across multiple day parts, not just primetime -- 23% of all connected TV ad views were in the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slots, while 18% of desktop views were between 12 p.m and 3 p.m., according to the VMR.

Total video views were up 25% in 2018, while ad view growth was 27% for the year. That compares to the prior year when video views rose 26% and ad views were up 22%.

The report added that full-episode content remains the most widely-viewed segment, particularly in the fall viewing season, and made up 61% of ad views in Q4 2018. About 95% of those ad views occurred on entertainment content, the report said.

Still, live TV was the biggest driver of growth -- up 51% year-over-year in Q4 2018. Sports content dominated, accounting for 57% of total live ad views, followed by news (up 46%)and entertainment (up 102%) ad views.

“A halo effect from viewers streaming second quarter tentpole events, such as the Winter Olympics, likely supported the persistence of live viewing throughout the year,” the report said.

The VMR data seemed to jibe with TV ratings measurement giant Nielsen’s Content Ratings Benchmarks report, which noticed a growing trend by consumers, especially younger ones, to watch programming first on their digital devices.

When younger viewers are watching broadcast and cable networks, they are mainly watching live TV. According to Nielsen, within the 18-34 demographic, 66% of the time they spend watching content from the four major broadcasters is done live. For cable networks, the same group spends 81% of its time viewing this content on live TV.

“Understanding how people are spending their time and where they are viewing is essential to monetizing content and creating value for media owners and buyers alike,” Nielsen said in its report.

Nielsen also found that when younger consumers are watching digital content, it is most likely on the go, via their smartphones or tablets. According to the Content Ratings Benchmark report, when 18-34 year- olds watch broadcast-originated content digitally, 71% of that viewing is spent on smartphones and tablets instead of computers. About 55%, when watching cable network originated content digitally, do so on mobile devices. The number spikes with content originated from digital-first publishers, with 91% of the time spent on a digital device by the 18-34 demographic occurring on mobile devices.