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Aussies watching less live TV but embracing the multi-screen lounge room

For all the talk of the online revolution, the stats say that Australians are actually watching slightly more traditional television year-on-year. On average we watch just over three hours of television every day, and it’s crept up by about a minute per day since this time last year. But are we paying less attention?

The fact that television viewing isn’t in freefall will come as a surprise to digital hipsters who consider broadcast television already dead. They’re wrong, it’s a case of a vocal minority mistaking itself for the majority. Live television is still the primary entertainment for most Australians and will continue to be for many years. It’s not going to disappear overnight, but it is going to change.

The fact that we’re watching slightly more broadcast television sounds like great news for the networks and they’re painting it as a win. But those gains came from ‘playback’ time-shifted viewing – watching something we recorded earlier. Playback now accounts for eight percent of our viewing, most of it within 24 hours.

The amount of live television we watch has actually dropped slightly. This drop isn’t great news for the networks and their advertising revenues. Most people tend to fast-forward the ads when watching something they recorded last night.

In this way, the shift to internet video can actually work in the broadcasters’ favour. Their online catch-up TV services include ads which are much harder to avoid. Catch-up TV will get another boost if the free-to-air broadcasters can ever get their FreeviewPlus catch up TV service up and running. It’s been delayed once again, although SBS decided to jump the gun and go it alone.

FreeviewPlus looks set to be a slow burn. Digging through OzTAM and Nielsen’s Australian Multi-Screen Report, it’s clear that what’s really taken off is lounge room multi-tasking – watching the television with a computer, smartphone or tablet in your lap.

Around 74 per cent of Aussies aged over 16 sometimes interact with a second screen while watching television, according to Nielsen data, which is up from 60 per cent three years ago. That number isn’t really surprising when you consider that 69 per cent of Aussies now own a smartphone.

Teens are most likely to engage in second screen activities, with 89 per cent using the internet while watching TV. At the other end of the spectrum, Australians over 65 watch the most television and are the least distracted by other devices.

Born into the golden age of television and now retired with more free time on their hands, it’s no surprise that today’s seniors are racking up more hours on the couch without digital distractions. Remember that the children of today are the adults of tomorrow and they’re not going to interact with the idiot box in the same way as their grandparents.

So is the second screen phenomenon good or bad for traditional broadcasters? It really depends on whether they can tap into those other activities which are stealing our attention away from the television.

If you’re playing a game, browsing the web or messaging friends, that’s not much use to the broadcasters. They need to encourage us to engage with what we’re watching, whether it be jumping into the Twitter conservation, sharing our viewing habits on social media, or using companion apps designed to complement what’s on the screen. The added benefit for broadcasters is that these activities encourage us to watch TV live, rather than on delay.

Australia’s commercial broadcasters have taken baby steps with apps like Jump-In, Fango and Beamly (once Zeebox). It will be interesting to see how they evolve over time and how they integrate advertising.

Even if we have one eye on the television and the other on our gadgets, they want to monetise both.

How do you watch television? Does the second screen enhance or distract from your viewing experience?

About the author

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian freelance journalist with a passion for technology. A long-time Sydney Morning Herald tech columnist and a regular on radio stations around the country, Adam also contributes to a wide range of magazines, blogs and podcasts. The coffee table is Adam’s desk as he reports from the front line of the digital lounge room.

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