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Data Shows How Internet and TV Interact in Households

27 Sep, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Interactive TV and video purveyors are excited about a new study from comScore Networks Inc. that says nearly half of all Internet-wired consumers surf the net while watching TV, even though most multiple media consumers seem to be straying from TV program content online.

“The prevailing understanding of how the Internet can interact with TV is misguided and needs to catch up to the reality revealed by the data,” said Peter Daboll, division president of comScore Media Metrix, which researched and authored the survey. “While the early fears of the Internet were that it would steer people away from prime-time viewing, the real threat to TV is that the Internet is steering away viewers' attention while they are watching TV and surfing the Internet simultaneously.”

Among the 45.1 million wired adults that have a television and a PC in the same room, nearly half (47 percent) reported they frequently use the Internet while watching television, 29 percent reported they did it occasionally, 18 percent reported they did it rarely and only 5 percent reported never doing so.

Fifteen percent of those with a television and a PC in the same room reported visiting a Web site about the TV show being watched; 11 percent reported sending e-mail or chatting online about a show being watched; 11 percent reported searching for listings or TV reviews; and 10 percent reported researching or browsing products featured on a TV show or in an advertisement.

But a whopping 74 percent reported conducting other online activities unrelated to the TV show being watched, and 52 percent reported using the computer for offline activities. This suggests that one-box convergence may not meet consumer needs, at least for the present.

The exciting thing for content providers is the comparatively small group of users who “simul-surf” and are often looking for information about a product or character or chatting about a show they're watching on TV.

“You can take your point of purchase out of those usual places and bring it into the home,” said Todd Collert, president and CEO of media player software company InterActual, which collaborates with several studios on DVD-ROM features. “It gives you an opportunity to start tying in.”

Tivo has made such efforts with vendors, including Lexus, which fielded a contest, and Best Buy, which has a Tivo advertainment campaign. Consumers may pause programming to view the product or contest pitch, then return. Essentially, it offers something in exchange for opting in to a commercial. (Among U.S. Internet users in the first quarter of 2002, 63 percent subscribe to a cable service, 22 percent subscribe to a satellite television service, 2 percent use a Tivo device, and 14 percent do not use a subscription-based TV service, according to comscore.)

“First, advertisers have to understand that viewers are often dividing their attention between two media, making the Internet a flexible and efficient advertising platform as users turn their attention to the Web during TV commercial breaks or uninteresting programming,” Daboll said. “Second, TV programmers need to understand they are competing against the Internet for viewers' attention and that efforts to extend the TV experience online in some instances could run counter to the way people are using the two platforms in the first place.”

Despite consumers' apparent tendency to stray from content, the information has useful insight for future planning, optimists said.

“The passive couch-potato consumer doesn't want to be passive,” said developer Scott Epstein, queried at last week's Digital Hollywood conference.

“It shows a demand for interactivity,” said InterActual founder and creative director Chris Brown. “The consumer is actively looking to interact with the experience.”

The survey is the first in a series of data on the relationship between new and traditional media consumption, derived from comScore's Audience insite Measures (AiM), which continuously and electronically monitors and combines PC-based online usage behavior with qualitative consumer information, including technology ownership and usage, demographic, lifestyle, attitudinal, purchase and offline media-consumption data.

Respondents were U.S. persons ages 18 and older who used the Internet from a PC in the first quarter of 2002.

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