Is cinema bigger than Netflix?

The IPA’s Touchpoints research is a magnificent, rich resource, enabling us to look at different media consumption side-by-side and from an impartial and rigorous source. But the press release from the IPA announcing the latest wave of findings uses an odd methodology for discussing the amount of time we spend with different media channels.

For example, do you watch 2.2 hours of cinema a day? Probably not. Even the most devoted cinephile doesn’t do that. But that is what the IPA says the average person in the UK now does in its press release.

How they have ended up with this strange average is by basing it on the amount of cinema that people who go to the cinema watch: when they go to the cinema.

That explains why it is about the length of a film plus the ads beforehand. It is not the actual average for how much time we spend at the cinema per day, which is obviously a lot less given we go about once a month.

This can be a useful measure. It provides a data point on how long people spend in the cinema on the occasions they go or how long they spend reading newspapers on the days they read them. But it’s a strange measure to lead with, and completely the wrong measure for comparing time spent with media side by side.

[NB: The IPA has since relabelled its media consumption chart]

This approach to creating average media consumption has been applied across the board by the IPA. For TV or radio, this is less warping because most people watch/listen every day. But for SVOD it also risks being misunderstood – and God knows there is enough misleading data around already on how our TV viewing is evolving.

The IPA release goes very big on the growth of SVOD consumption. There is no doubt SVOD is becoming mainstream. We’re in the age of TV, after all, and 48% of us now have either Netflix or Amazon Prime, according to research from Barb.

Given SVOD’s increased popularity, it is even more important to put them in a meaningful context, because they are headline-grabbing new players.

Disappointingly, as with cinema, the IPA approach doesn’t do this.

It reports the average daily time spent watching Netflix, by people who have Netflix, on the days when they watch Netflix. They do the same for Amazon.

So, we get 2 hours, 14 minutes for Netflix and 1 hour, 51 minutes for Amazon. Combined that’s a hefty 4 hours, 5 minutes a day of SVOD we’re each supposed to be watching. Individually, each is less popular on the average day than cinema apparently.

By their nature SVOD services get larger chunks of time spent watching when viewers are into a series. But, people don’t tend to use the services every day. Based on the IPA’s 2017 Touchpoints data (we don’t yet have the 2018 data) the actual average amount of time spent by people with Netflix watching Netflix was 55 minutes per day if you include days when they don’t watch any Netflix. People with Amazon watched an average of 32 minutes.

But, although that is better, it still isn’t a representative UK average. To get that you need to look at everyone irrespective of whether they have these services or not. Then you discover that the average amount of time with Netflix in 2017 was 11 minutes a day and Amazon was 2 minutes a day. It has increased since then, but by minutes not hours.

It is very confusing to take the approach the IPA has chosen. And it is only a matter of time before their figures are repeated back to me at a conference as proof of what the average person is now doing.

It is also odd that the IPA’s Belinda Beeftink is quoted saying: “Broadcasters are increasingly at the mercy of consumers’ daily habits, rather than consumers being at the mercy of the broadcasters’ scheduling decisions. In essence, it seems consumers would like to choose – and not to be told – when to tune in.”

Who are these dictatorial broadcasters? Since when were the broadcasters telling people when to watch? They make their shows available anywhere, at any time and on any screen. People like a blend of live and on demand TV – some of which comes now from SVOD.

As I said at the beginning, Touchpoints is a very rich and important source of impartial data on media consumption. But the data needs to be used to add clarity to thinking and much-needed context to accompany the interesting narrative around the growth in time spent with these new TV services.

Matt Hill is director of research and planning at Thinkbox

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