The Television-Internet Connection

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Deal or No Deal's Lucky Case Game

I'm writing this column while in my living room watching Gordon Ramsay's new reality-based series Kitchen Nightmares. My wife is not very happy with me. As we spend some time together each evening watching television, my trusty MacBook Pro sits only a few inches away from me, beckoning me to get online and open a web browser. In the past, we have enjoyed watching our favorite shows together, but now Steve Jobs' latest laptop wizardry threatens to come between us.

Lately I've been obsessed with couch multitasking — either working over e-mail while watching the tube, or in most cases adding depth to what I see on the television with real-time web-based research. Tonight, as I actually write a column while watching TV and simultaneously researching what I'm watching, I'm entering dangerous spousal territory. But based on independent research, I don't think I'm alone in this obsession.

According to a study conducted by the Solutions Research Group, roughly 37% of the U.S. population over the age of 12 use their computers while watching television at home. That's great news should I find the need to recruit members for a support group — with the U.S. population exceeding 300 million (I'm not sure exactly how many are under the age of 12, but 79.7% of Americans are older than 14), that gives me a potential membership of about 100 million for a computer-television addiction group, should the need arise. While we don't know exactly what these online television viewers are doing while watching their favorite shows, Internet usage data tells us that there are great opportunities for television programs to create interactive content.

There are 1,875 sites in the Hitwise entertainment/television category. Combined, those sites accounted for 1.89% of all Internet visits in the U.S. last week. To put that in perspective, television sites receive roughly the same number of visits as sites in the travel category, almost twice the visits in the health/medical category. So what television websites are we going to? This week, Hitwise released the top 10 TV show sites to coincide with many season premieres.

Network Website Market Share
1. NBC Deal or No Deal 15.46%
2. ABC Dancing With The Stars 11.23%
3. NBC Heroes 9.71%
4. ABC Grey's Anatomy 3.51%
5. FOX America's Most Wanted 2.70%
6. NBC The Office 2.26%
7. ABC The Bachelor 2.25%
8. ABC Lost 2.07%
9. NBC Bionic Woman 1.82%
10. The CW Gossip Girl 1.76%

Source: Hitwise. Among the six major TV networks for the week ending Sept. 29, 2007 from a sample of 10 million U.S. Internet users.

The most visited television show website, with 15.46% of visits to a category of 120 sites was the NBC show Deal or No Deal — really no surprise given the lure of winning $10,000 online in the "Lucky Case Game," which viewers at home can play during the live show. The second most-visited television site is another non-scripted or reality-based program, ABC's hit show Dancing with the Stars, with over 11.2% of visits to the category. Again no surprise, as users, if they prefer the web over texting, can vote for their favorite celebrity dancer by visiting the site during the show.

To date, the television industry has used passive viewership as the measure of a television show or network's success. Given our divided attention and the potential to create highly interactive programming, perhaps passive viewership is outdated — Internet stats related to television content gives us an idea as to how engaged we are with what is on TV. And this kind of interaction doesn't always have to involve reality shows, or the Internet for that matter. In a different study conducted by Solutions Research Group, 34% of viewers between the ages of 12-34 were text messaging or IM'ing from their cell phones while watching the NBA finals this year on TV.

But it's truly exciting to consider the potential for tying online content together with television programs. As I mention this to my wife, who is switching to the CW reality show Beauty and the Geek, I'm reminded of how, in our household, television — in fact this specific program title — is very reflective of reality.

Bill Tancer is general manager of global research at Hitwise.