Online vs Linear TV: 4 Key Trends to Know


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Look at TV consumption habits across the world at the moment and it’s clear that linear television still rules the roost, capturing far more daily viewing time than online television. Even so, it’s the latter which is making consistent year-on-year gains and which dominates headlines.

At GlobalWebIndex, we’ve been monitoring time spent on linear vs online TV since 2012. Here, we outline some of the most important trends from our latest wave of research across 34 markets.

1.  Linear TV isn’t dying

It’s often said that the rise of online viewing will have a fatal impact on linear TV. For the moment at least, that simply isn’t true.

Since 2012, daily time spent on linear TV has been holding remarkably steady even as online programming manages to capture an increasing amount of our time. Clearly, then, we’re not witnessing a direct or clear-cut shift from linear to online.

These numbers are also food-for-thought the next time you hear that behaviours are changing rapidly. While the yearly increases for online TV are certainly important, the shifts are far from dramatic.

Currently, linear TV still in fact captures 3.4x as much time as online television.

 

2.  Younger consumers are at the forefront of online TV adoption

In the world of digital, it’s typically the youngest age groups which lead the charge towards new devices or behaviours. Hence it’s hardly a surprise to see that 16-24s are currently the most devoted viewers when it comes to online TV.

But two things are particularly striking here:

Firstly, 16-24s have become the first group to watch an average of more than an hour of online TV per day. At the same time, they’re also consuming the least amount of linear TV, clocking in at just over 2 hours (compared to almost 3.25 hours among 55-64s).

Secondly, the scale of the age-based differences is pretty big: compared to the oldest group tracked in our survey, 16-24s are watching more than four times as much online TV.

And as if that wasn’t impressive enough by itself, 16-24s in Ireland and China now watch more TV online than via linear channels.

Certainly, online is only just ahead in these two markets, but that the same transition is close to taking place in Canada too is pretty telling.

3.  The UK and USA still love linear TV

Despite having arguably the best range of catch-up and OTT services available to them, it’s digital consumers in the UK and USA who are watching the most linear TV.

In part, that’s a reflection of their high internet penetration levels (which means they have higher proportions of internet users in the older age groups, a demographic which, as we’ve seen, remains the most wedded to linear TV).

But it’s also more evidence that online content isn’t always a direct replacement for traditional channels.

Indeed, these viewership levels need to be seen in the context of almost half of America’s online adults being on Netflix and some 45% in the UK regularly using the BBC’s iPlayer.

In terms of online TV, it’s fast-growth markets which tend to score the highest daily engagement figures – with Thailand, China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia being the only 4 among our 34 countries where the daily figure has crossed the 1-hour mark.

 

4.  VPNs are a huge driver of online content consumption

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Proxy Servers are helping audiences around the world to overcome geo-restrictions and access entertainment content not available to them in their own countries.

Globally, it’s just over a quarter of online adults who say they used one of these tools to access the web and disguise their real location.

The search for better entertainment content is the primary motivator for this; 13% of all online adults (and half of VPN users) have deployed a VPN for this reason.

This is a trend which brings major implications for content providers – not least that some of the geo-targeted ads which fund free services will be not be reaching their intended audiences.

It also makes it much harder to profile users and to drive up revenues (for a service like the BBC’s iPlayer, for example, there would be clear scope to charge non-UK users for access). 

Significantly, VPN usage varies dramatically between countries and the search for superior entertainment content is much more pronounced in fast-growth markets.

More than a fifth of online adults in places like Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand are trying to access content in other countries, with emerging markets taking all of the top 10 spots.

That’s another factor which helps to explain why consumers in  fast-growth markets watch the most online TV and, if we compare these figures to those from the UK, US or Australia (at 5% or lower), the differing impact of this trend is clear to see.

VPN users shouldn’t be seen as a threat though; although some are no doubt looking for free material, this is a group which is much more likely than average to pay for TV content.

If anything, then, it’s a case of current supply not meeting demand – something which services like Netflix would do well to note given that their current market coverage tends to all but exclude these types of countries.


Jason Mander is Head of Trends at GlobalWebIndex where he oversees all of GWI’s content. He produces a daily blog on key digital topics using GWI’s data as well as managing their Market Report series – analyzing trends in each of the 32 countries surveyed by GlobalWebIndex.

He is a regular public speaker, a blogger for the Huffington Post and a frequent contributor to articles, new stories and TV coverage across such titles as BBC News, the Guardian, Bloomberg and NBC.