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Nott Alone: Is OTT Making It Cool Again to Watch TV Together?

4 minute read | Kumar Rao, director, Kamer Yildiz, senior scientist and Molly Poppie, VP, Data Science, Nielsen | October 2016

Co-viewing in television is the process of watching content alongside other people, typically members of the same household. Entertainment products are often consumed collectively, and television is no exception. In fact, watching television has traditionally been considered a social activity. But the digital age is starting to erode that premise: With more television content being watched every day on laptops, smartphones and tablets, it seems that watching TV is slowly becoming an individual pursuit.

Are over-the-top (OTT) devices capable of reversing that tide? OTT devices are now in 20% of U.S. households. They’re typically connected to a big screen TV in the home, and make it possible for consumers to watch TV content via dedicated apps from major TV networks and streaming services. They come with all the convenience and flexibility we’ve come to expect from digital entertainment (enormous video libraries, on-demand viewing, unlimited viewing for a fixed monthly fee) but on a big screen and in the comfort of our living rooms. Is OTT making it cool again to watch TV together?

The short answer is: Undeniably, yes, but rates vary by age, daypart, and other factors.

Studying co-viewing for OTT devices is important for a number of reasons: Program developers need to understand who exactly is watching their shows and if watching on an OTT device is likely to affect certain demographic groups more heavily than others; advertisers need to understand how co-viewing on an OTT device might affect how their ads are perceived; and sociologists are eager to understand shared viewing patterns and some of the new dynamics driving our social interactions.

In early 2015, Nielsen partnered with Roku, a leading OTT device provider, to deliver the first ever audience measurement service on TV-connected devices. To facilitate census-based measurement, Nielsen embedded a piece of software (called a software development kit, or SDK*) directly into the apps of the OTT provider to track ad impressions. Since that data came from devices and not panel homes, we didn’t know who watched the content. To solve this problem, we implemented two crucial steps: First, we used a third-party data provider to identify the household and person-level characteristics (e.g., income, age, gender) associated with the OTT device and calibrated that data against our National People Meter (NPM) panel; then, we developed a model to predict which specific household members viewed each ad impression, based on historical NPM TV data stemming from television sets that were connected to an OTT device.

The launch of this OTT measurement service was a breakthrough in our understanding of OTT usage, and it continues to grow in terms of clients (supporting an increasing number of publishers and advertisers) and data volume (capturing millions of impressions every day). In 2016, we embarked on a co-viewing study using data collected from that OTT measurement service. This study involved analyzing a large volume of campaign data across a variety of sources: 18 million ad impressions from 15 advertising campaigns across programs representing more than two dozen genres.

We found that the overall co-viewing rate for OTT was 34%—lower than what it is for traditional broadcast TV (43%) but much higher than TV co-viewing on mobile devices (14%). We were also able to determine that OTT co-viewing was a non-random phenomenon—it varied based on age, for example. Kids (2-12 year olds) co-view the most: seven out of 10 of this age group co-view with at least one other person in their home. Among teens (ages 13-17), females were more likely to co-view than males (63% vs. 54%). For all other age groups, however, males and females co-view at a similar rate. We also found that OTT co-viewing is much more prevalent in primetime (44%) than during daytime (25%). We will expand on those findings in an upcoming full paper.

The initial results are consistent with what we know of co-viewing in traditional TV, but there are significant differences along demographic and technology lines, as we start to expand measurement across different OTT providers. As OTT penetration keeps rising, Nielsen is committed to including OTT devices in its digital ad ratings and continuing to design innovative measurement techniques that can keep pace with the consumer marketplace. We believe this is an excellent example of how panels and census-based data can be brought together to better understand modern viewing trends.

*See “Kit and Caboodle: a Software Development Kit to Measure all Digital TV Impressions” in this issue.

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