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Dear Researchers: “TV” Refers To Content, Not Delivery Mechanism

Someone asked us the other day if most of what we wrote about was based on quantitative or qualitative data. We answered that is was mostly based on qualitative, but that was largely due to the fact that so much of the available quantitative data around television was so badly done.

Some of the blame for that goes to certain media outlets, the ones that will happily run any “TV Is Dead” story, even if it turns out the research was based on a sampling of 35 people.

The other source of confusion lies in the fact that researchers’ definition of “TV” and what makes something “TV” (versus “digital video”) is constantly in flux, and that makes it hard to compare various quantitative research studies since the stats rarely compare apples to apples.

We touched on this question of “how do you define television” last year but it’s worth revisiting, especially now, as TV presses its advantage over digital, and the question of “what is TV” and “what is digital” becomes more relevant.

Too many of the faulty studies seem to look at the delivery mechanism for the content, rather than the content that is being delivered. As in counting anything that’s not served up via a set top box as “digital.” Even when what’s actually delivered is a traditional television show produced by a mainstream television network.

More confusing still, is that many researchers insist that Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are “digital video.” This makes no sense either, as what those platforms are showing is still television—most of their content consists of network TV reruns. The original series they’re producing are also TV— professionally produced long-form programming. There’s no logical reason to lump them together with two minute Buzzfeed videos or YouTube UGC.

The fact that more and more television will be delivered in a time-shifted manner via digital devices also speaks to the need to make sure that we’re calling TV “TV”. It’s easy to show the decline of television by focusing on the falling number of viewers watching linear television, but as our friend Innovid’s Tal Chalozin pointed out earlier this week, it’s not that TV is failing, it’s just changing and adapting.

That’s why a potential Facebook TV network is not a threat to the industry, but rather, a welcome addition. We’ve gotten used to a having hundreds of viewing options and so a Facebook network will just add to our options, not eliminate them.

Ditto Amazon, Google, and Apple.

But back to research: when you actually find a report that correctly looks at how people are watching TV (versus what device they are watching it on), the stats look very promising. People are still watching a whole lot of television. Admittedly not in the way they once watched it, but they’re still watching. What’s more, they’re watching it more deliberately, choosing to watch shows rather than have the shows chosen for them.

That’s a huge shift, one that could serve to make advertising more valuable as you’re reaching a more engaged audience. (It could also make it less valuable, as you’re annoying that engaged audience by interrupting their programming with poorly targeted commercials.) Either way, it changes the economics of television, but not its long-term viability.

If only most of the people doing the research would figure that out.