Video viewing on mobile collapses, advertisers overspending

By Paul McIntyre | 13 March 2014

Video viewing on mobile devices has plunged 538% by more than three quarters to one hour and 23 minutes per month in the latest US figures from Nielsen, prompting some Australian media buyers to declare the industry has accelerated spending too quickly out of traditional channels into digital.

The dramatic revision in the time users spend watching video on mobile devices – down from a whopping five hours 23 minutes last year – was triggered by a change in measurement methodology from Nielsen. It highlights the dangers of using claimed media usage studies versus passive metered systems.

The revision in the US prompted MEC’s chief strategy officer, James Hier, to call out the industry on its bias and over-enthusiasm to push the “story arc” of digital killing traditional media before it has actually happened.

“What has and is happening is probably a too-great acceleration from these traditional channels to others,” Hier told AdNews. “Unless you are working with direct-response clients where we are far more accountable, you have no way of benchmarking how quickly that change has to be pushed.

“I think what happens is if you are in the media industry and have clients who have a direct-to-consumer model you are lot more grounded in what channels are working. I can tell you traditional channels are in very rude health. The numbers are there and the behaviours are there. But the point is it’s not either-or. Where we get confused is that it’s about a portfolio of channels.”

Hier’s theory on why Nielsen had such a radical downweighting in the time spent with mobile video in the US is because it was previously a claimed survey of what people thought they were doing. People are multi-streaming content and utility services like online banking and news on mobile devices which blurs their recollection of how much time they are actually spending with video.

“The big question is why has the media bought that story?" he said. "Video content for 50 years has been TV. TV essentially is longer minutes. Video is snacking. I think that’s why the discrepancy is so large. The second thing is, for media buyers, mobile video beautifully fits with the story arc of the death of the 30-second TV spot and TV viewing – so why would you question the numbers? The growth [in mobile] video makes great headlines.”

Nielsen’s head of media in Australia, Monique Perry, says the revision in the US numbers was due entirely to a change in methodology. “It’s fairly consistent when we move from a diary methodology to some sort of metered methodology," she said. "You get actual behaviour minute-by-minute. You can understand switching behaviours at a much higher frequency.”

Hier says it was brave of Nielsen in the US to change methodology although he says he was disappointed the researcher had buried the findings.

“They should have been a lot braver on this,” he said. “They should have called out the big change and not try and bury it. They have only mentioned we shouldn’t trend from previous because they have changed the methodology. I’m a little bit disappointed in that but extremely excited by what they have done now.”

In Australia, Nielsen is starting a pilot with the IAB on mobile usage using electronic metered methodology, which involves 1,000 smartphone and 500 tablet users consenting to have software embedded in their devices to track their behaviour.

The technology is from Arbitron in the US, which Nielsen recently acquired. The first public findings from the Australian IAB-Nielsen project are due by year’s end are expected to be a much better indication of usage trends compared to claimed surveys.

This story originally suggested viewing times had collapsed 538%. Additonally, Nielsen has stated that the technology used in the mobile panel pilot is the Nielsen mobile on device meter. Arbitron technology is for radio measurement.

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