The Council for Research Excellence (CRE) recently initiated two ethnographic studies to help Nielsen and its clients understand the impact of video platform proliferation on viewing practices, and to help progress audience measurement.

We still have roughly an 18-month time horizon to completion, but we’re already discovering important insight into how people are consuming video—and we’ve been invited to provide an update at the October 2014 TMRE (The Market Research Event) in Boca Raton, Fla.

GfK is the CRE’s research associate on the studies. One study is a “longitudinal ethnography,” where we follow consumers over a two-year period; the other is an “acceleration” study where we have helped to outfit consumers who are typically later-term adopters to examine potential future consumer behavior by the mainstream.

The studies are designed to help researchers understand the impact of increased video availability across a growing number of devices and how people not only consume, but think about video. The overarching goal is to help Nielsen progress how it measures video.

Audience measurement needs to take into account increased complexity in viewing. This includes many variables; among them: device, usage location, viewing circumstances (such as solitary vs. group viewing), demographics and lifestyle factors, to name a few.

We’re looking at viewing via TV sets, PCs/laptops, connected TVs (gaming consoles, smart TVs, Wi-Fi-enabled devices), smartphones, tablets, personal gaming devices and DVRs. As the landscape has led to increasingly unmeasured platforms, places and people, this work is critical for Nielsen and its clients.

Bottom line, we want to be able to answer these questions:

  • How is the role of video in everyday life changing?
  • What does this mean for advertisers’ and programmers’ ability to connect with audiences?
  • As the population continues to diversify, how can we deliver to their needs?

The research team already has visited each of some 150 participating households at least once. In many of the homes, researchers are using many new technologies to record and code behavior for analysis.

We’ve also provided participants with a cutting-edge video-journal “toolkit” including many software applications enabling them to record their viewing habits as well as complete “tasks,” which provide us with information. So, while we’re conducting research to improve methodology, we’re using some of the newest methodologies to do so—and concurrently learning about those new methodologies.

The Family Way

Important initial findings already have come in. Among them, we’ve learned that consumer sophistication with devices and platforms, regardless of household type, was surprisingly high. We also learned that children and teens are influencing not only technology purchasing decisions but also which content is consumed on those devices. And we learned that where, when and how content is consumed often results from negotiation among multiple household members. So it seems families still, in a way, fight over the remote.

We’ve also learned that video content is still “king.” Content, we found, is driving consumers’ choices about which devices to purchase, and they are demanding devices that can stream the video content they want. To them, the platform is simply the means to an end. However, the user experiences that these platforms (and video services on these platforms) offer will also greatly influence what choices are made.

We know that the definition of “TV” has evolved, transcending the hardware. More TV shows will be streamed through connected sets and tablets, and shorter-form digital content not originally distributed on TV will be viewed on these devices as well. The extent of viewer engagement is being influenced by a number of factors. We know these include device functionality and the availability of content. We also know that the living room “set” continues to be “the heart of the home.”

Our studies will help us better understand viewer behaviors and motivations and how they are changing as choices for them continue to expand. We’ll understand why audiences consume video on specific devices. The insights we generate will improve audience measurement, which is at the core of the CRE’s mission.

In addition to my role chairing a CRE committee, I work in Media Research and Insights for Warner Bros Television Group. We are very focused on what we believe to be a renaissance in both audience measurement and content distribution. The insights from these ethnographies will inform our own efforts, as we hope they do for colleagues throughout the industry.