Do We Watch the Web the Same Way We Watch TV Not Really

Do We Watch the Web the Same Way We Watch TV Not Really

Jon Gibs, Vice President for Insights, Online and Cross Media

While we are not yet spending 90% of our time watching “glowing rectangles” as The Onion joked last year, Americans are consuming more and more video across all three screens (TV, Web, Mobile) according to our recent A2/M2 Three Screen Report. But do we watch TV online the same way we watch on our living room TV?

Looking at Nielsen’s online panel data of U.S. visitors to online TV sites (,,,, or in the last 30 days, we actually found more differences than similarities when it came to viewing behavior, demographics, and even ad effectiveness. Demographically, those watching online TV Network video are closer to DVR users by gender breaks, but closer to the general online population relative to age.

The broader usage patterns suggest that online video is, for the most part, a replacement of DVR use, or used by those who do not have immediate access to TV. In short, TV network content online is used to catch up with programming, and not typically as a replacement for TV viewing as results from our email survey showed.

What are some of the reasons you watch

TV shows on the Internet?

Question %
I forgot to watch a specific episode when it aired on TV 54%
I am catching up on the current season of programming because I missed a large number of episodes 47%
I am catching up on a past season of a program before the next season airs 33%
I forgot to record a specific episode with my DVR or TiVo when it aired on TV 32%
Another member of my household watches another program at the same time as the show I want to watch 18%
I watch TV programming online when I am at work 12%
I watch TV programming online when I travel 12%
Source: The Nielsen Company – January 2009

When We Watch

Online TV Network consumption appears to be an activity set aside in specific sessions from most other online activities. When we go online to watch TV shows, that activity dominates that particular online session, with women and the 18-34 crowd spending the biggest parts of their sessions on network viewing.

Percent of Session Time Watching Video

On Broadcast Site When Session Involves

Broadcast Site Viewing

Average 73%
Men 75%
Women 69%
Age 2-11 50%
Age 12-17 71%
Age 18-24 78%
Age 25-34 79%
Age 35-49 69%
Age 50-64 68%
Age 65+ 59%
Source: The Nielsen Company – January 2009

While many of us may watch TV with friends or family members, the viewing of TV shows online proves to be a rather solitary activity. This may change as internet connectivity to our main TV screens becomes more ubiquitous, but right now, the majority of online viewers prefer to be alone.


Advertising Impact

TV commercial spots reused online appear to be more impact on recall and likeability than creative just designed for online as this case study with food and beverage ads shows.


This look into the similarities and differences of TV viewing on the web should be a reminder to brand managers that “context” is just as much king these days as content.