I love watching the annual Academy Awards — not only for the fashion show and blunders exposed on live TV but also to learn about how content resonates with audiences today and how cinema is evolving. In a world where people frequently face information overload and crave smaller bites (and bytes) of content, I’ve often wondered, what is the fate of the full-length film?
Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data reveals a curious story: Rather than reaching any type of saturation point, US consumers’ media appetite is growing rapidly: 93% of online adults frequently watch video today, more than 10 percentage points higher than two years ago. And their often-criticized waning attention span is not deterring consumers from sitting through full-length films; in fact, movie viewership is on the rise. However, our data shows that the viewing experience is changing: Movie watching is getting more personal as consumers increasingly turn to their home devices instead of going to the movie theater.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’re probably aware that there was a new release in the Star Wars saga this week. I’m not a fan of science fiction and have somehow managed never to have seen a Star Wars movie in my life — so all of the discussion about what will happen to Luke, Leia, or the Jedi in ‘The Force Awakens’ is completely lost on me. But what I do find extremely interesting is the huge passion of my colleagues and friends to see this movie in a cinema — and as quickly as possible. In the US, Star Wars opens in 4,100 theaters and the movie is a leader in advance ticket sales around the world. And Star Wars is just one of the big blockbusters of 2015 — in fact, analysts expect this year to be Hollywood's biggest box-office year ever.
When we look at our North American Consumer Technographics data, we see that movies certainly have a place in US online consumers’ video behaviors; watching movies in theaters is just behind watching free and paid online video services like Netflix and Hulu.
Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola once said: “The very earliest people who made films were magicians.” In some ways, things haven’t changed -- although the media producers of today seem to pull the classic reappearing act as their key trick: When content finishes on one screen, it reappears on another . . . and then another.
Video is available across myriad personal devices, and consumers’ viewing habits are fragmented across technologies. Just as channels for video consumption are becoming more profuse, the types of content that viewers seek are also increasingly diverse. In the past month alone, American audiences said hello to streaming-exclusive dramas and goodbye to long-running TV shows. This week, consumers viewed an array of films like those premiering at SXSW, and tuned into the March Madness sports frenzy.
Consumers have choices about what to watch, on which device, and when. According to Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data, US online adults still prefer to watch longer-length video on TVs but frequently turn to smaller devices for shorter content:
From Time Warner and Comcast to AT&T and DirecTV, corporate mergers appear to be the latest tactic in winning the battle for market share and driving innovation. From a business perspective, the strategic advantages of such mergers may be clear — but what do these changes look like from the consumer’s viewpoint? To understand consumer reaction to the latest series of merger announcements, Forrester leveraged its Technographics360 approach of linking multiple data sources to give a holistic view of consumers. Specifically, we tuned into online chatter with our social listening platform and engaged our ConsumerVoices market research online community for this analysis.
According to the data, consumers associate mergers with increased costs, fewer opportunities for choice, and decreased product and service quality. While a few individuals appreciate the potential for innovation that mergers might afford, the prevailing sentiment is uncertainty:
The fact that individuals are wary of these corporate mergers partially stems from the timeless truism that “people are afraid of change.” To mainstream consumers, a large merger suggests a loss of customer control and greater uncertainty; according to the Harvard Business Review, these are the top two qualities that underpin a fear of change.
Three years ago, Stanford Communications Professor Emeritus Donald F. Roberts believed that American youth had hit a ceiling on media use, as there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to increase the amount of time children were spending on media. He was astounded to see that time spent on media consumption did in fact grow, as young individuals began consuming heavily across multiple devices at the same time. And the numbers have continued to increase since: More than 80% of US online consumers ages 12 to 17 multitask online while watching TV.
Multitasking behavior among this demographic has changed not only in terms of the total number of hours but also in terms of the devices used. Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that in 2011, young consumers primarily went online via desktop or laptop computers while watching TV, while now they prefer to use more portable devices for multitasking activity:
The proliferation of mobile and portable Internet-connected devices has made TV multitasking the norm. Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that about four out of five US online adults who own a laptop, smartphone, or tablet go online regularly while watching TV, but the intensity of interaction differs by device.
My colleague Tracy Stokes wrote about this in a report called “The New Layers Of TV Audience Insight.” Her take: Just because your TV audience is active on social and digital platforms doesn’t mean that they will blindly engage with your brand. To drive cross-media engagement, you have to have a clear call to action that easily conveys why consumers should be active across multiple media channels.
But when you do it right, there’s a lot to gain. Research from Discovery Communications shows that exposure to more digital touchpoints while watching TV can strengthen consumers' connection to content and brands, not detract from it. Discovery's study found that users who multitask with devices while they watch TV are more attentive and responsive to TV programming and advertising than the average viewer.
At the end of 2010, we published a blog post about the results of our annual US “Understanding The Need Of The Changing Consumer” report, in which we reported that for the first time ever the average time US consumer reports spending online is the same as what they report spending watching offline TV. As the data is self-reported it's different from the metrics collected by Nielsen or comScore, but it tells a very important story that is coming directly from the mouths of consumers: In their minds, time spent with offline and online media is split equally.
However, this discussion came at a time when the iPad had only been launched for about six months and worldwide there were less than 15 million iPads sold. At the end of 2011, we conducted a quantitative Technographics® study and ran a qualitative project in our Community Speaks community to better understand: the relationship among tablets, laptops, and TV; how consumers are currently using the Internet and TV; and how they’d like to do so in the future. Forrester's Technographics data shows that many consumers who own a laptop or tablet use that to go online while watching television:
Many people consume content from multiple media channels simultaneously (see for example this recent post on European youth), but does the content they’re looking at actually overlap? We looked into our Technographics® data to see what consumers are doing on their computers while watching a TV show and we found that the top four activities have nothing to do with what they are watching.
Because consumers are using their PC for activities that require more attention than watching TV – which is mostly a passive activity — it’s questionable how much of the TV content they are even registering. Almost one-third of consumers are playing games on their computers while watching television, and one-quarter are doing schoolwork. Has the TV just become background noise?
We also see that 44% of consumers are communicating with friends via social networks, chat, and email on topics that are not related to the show. So consumers are interested in content online, but not necessarily in parallel with the broadcasting of a show. Market researchers need to develop a research plan that helps companies understand how and when consumers watch TV, and when they are checking out online content related to the company's products or brand, in order to build a marketing strategy that reinforces the message across channels.
Throughout the past 12 years of our Technographics® surveys, we’ve observed digital technology’s role in consumers’ lives increasing steadily.
Today, technologies like PCs and mobile phones, which were once reserved for the most well-heeled tech freaks, are in three-quarters of US households. For media consumption, however, new formats don't necessarily replace old ones. Our Technographics data shows that while new media sources occupy more of young consumers’ time, it’s the traditional media sources that continue to maintain popularity across both younger and older consumer groups.
This continued reliance on traditional media explains why cross-channel media adoption is still seeing slow growth. The Weather Channel leads this race, as it did in previous years, with one-quarter of respondents indicating they both watch The Weather Channel and log in online.
A couple of weeks ago I published a Data Digest on European consumers’ media consumption. One of the questions that always comes up when I present this data to clients is how focused consumers are when they're watching TV or using the Internet. Our Technographics® data shows that consumers aren't focused at all: About 40% of US youth were watching TV the last time that they used the Internet, and a third were texting.
But consumers don’t just multitask across different channels; they also do many different things on the PC at the same time. We asked European consumers the following question: "Which of the following activities do you regularly do at the same time when you’re using your PC (by that we mean that you are combining multiple activities)?" About half of European youth use IM when using the Internet, and about 60% listen to music. Undivided attention is something that's hard to find these days.