By Elizabeth Jensen
Special to TelevisionWeek
Measuring video-on-demand viewing would on the surface appear to be one of the less pressing problems for cable researchers. Consumers get the shows they order, whether free or purchased, through digital set-top boxes, leaving behind an instant, easily accessible record of how many people ordered what and how long they watched.
If only it were so simple. As the number of video-on-demand offerings grows and viewers catch on, researchers want more and they want it soon. They want to know the age and gender of the person ordering their programs. They want to know what else the viewer ordered or is watching. They want to know whether viewers are fast-forwarding through parts or watching the whole program. Some researchers compare VOD measurement to the nascent days of the Internet, when it was possible to tell how many times a page was accessed but not what that meant in terms of consumer behavior.
“We’re in early stages of getting to a more comprehensive measurement tool” for on-demand, said Linda LaVigne, director of research for CTAM. “We’re still learning.”
CTAM, which has scheduled a session dealing with VOD for its research conference this week, has been following the broader trends in the growth of VOD for its members, with some positive news to report. Familiarity with VOD jumped substantially from 2004 to 2005, according to a recent CTAM study, with 69 percent of respondents reporting they were familiar with on-demand, up 15 points from a year earlier. Among the smaller subset of digital subscribers, nearly nine in 10 viewers were aware of on-demand, also up 15 percentage points in just one year.
“What we are seeing is that cable’s marketing efforts are paying off,” Ms. LaVigne said. “There have been substantial increases in familiarity and usage.”
Among digital cable subscribers, just under half of those who are aware of the product and have it available to them reported in the same study that they had ordered programming through on-demand, also a 15-point jump from 2004.
According to as-yet-unreleased data that came out of a separate CTAM tracking study, Ms. LaVigne said, consumers increasingly understand exactly what video-on-demand is, with 66 percent of those surveyed in 2005 agreeing that it means they can “watch what they want, when they want,” up from 46 percent in 2003. Likewise, she said, 61 percent of respondents said they understood that on-demand programming could be started, stopped, fast-forwarded and rewound after ordering, up from 44 percent in 2003.
In the same study, she said, interest and awareness of VOD doubled to 26 percent among analog cable subscribers from 2004 to 2005. Moreover, Ms. LaVigne said, there are indications in CTAM data that digital cable customers are showing less interest in switching to a satellite service than before, and that more satellite customers are expressing interest in switching to digital cable. She attributes the interest, in part, to digital’s greater capacity for on-demand offerings.
A top priority for researchers looking at on-demand is to get a handle on just how viewers of on-demand programming interact with the linear channel offering the same fare and whether the growing on-demand offerings will cannibalize their existing channels. MTV Networks is among those that commissioned research last year trying to understand how the two complement each other.
Brad Dancer, VP of research and on-demand for the National Geographic Channel, has questions he would still like answered: “Do they watch more or less or the same amount as do regular viewers of my channel? Are regular viewers of my channel more likely to go to on-demand? Or are on-demand viewers choosing random things to watch?”
Ms. LaVigne has some good news for programmers based on yet another CTAM-commissioned research study. Among weekly users of free on-demand programming, some 47 percent said they later sought out regularly scheduled series on the corresponding linear cable channel after seeing a program for the first time on VOD, indicating that VOD might be helping to generate viewership for the primary channel rather than merely time-shifting viewers away from it.