Online content has exploded in the last couple of years, with dozens of cable nets putting clips and even entire episodes on the Internet. Must be that consumers just love watching TV on their computers, right? Not so fast, according to research conducted by Nielsen and commissioned by CTAM. It turns out that most adults (94%) who subscribe to cable or satellite prefer to watch TV on traditional TV sets. But at the same time, the study confirmed the significant consumer shift toward viewing TV content on their computers, with one-third of the adult broadband users (35%) surveyed reporting that they had watched at least 1 television program originally shown on TV via the Internet. Of those who sought out video content online, 87% watched television programs directly from a TV network Web site. Meanwhile, 82% of those who watched video content online reported that they went online to find a specific television program that they had missed when it first aired on TV. In addition, online television viewers are not only catching up on their favorite shows: Nearly 40% report using the Internet to get the scoop on actors and upcoming episodes. Chalk it up as further evidence that online video is additive and promotional, not cannibalistic. The study polled 1,200 adults and 300 teens who subscribe to cable or satellite.

The study also found growth among services associated with traditional TV set viewing. For example, free VOD shows and movies experienced a significant jump in usage from 49% in 2005 to 71% in 2007, and paid VOD usage increased from 46% to 55%. It’s especially interesting that the growth of paid VOD is keeping pace with the far more accessible free VOD category (ie, it’s much easier to order a free movie than hit that "buy" button). Sure, it hasn’t grown as much, but that’s to be expected. More interesting is that the explosion of free VOD doesn’t seem to be canibalizing its paid VOD cousin. As the industry works outs its Project Canoe initiative, which is partly expected to grease the way for dynamic VOD advertising, it’s nice to know that paid VOD remains a viable additional revenue source.

Other key findings:

• Of those respondents who own HDTV sets, 41% subscribe to a HD service and report making it a point to watch HD programs “every time” (20%) or “most of the time” (45%) they watch television.

• Interest in digital cable and HDTV sets is strong among respondents currently without these services or devices. Those interested in digital cable jumped from 9% to 20% and from 18% to 28% for high definition TV sets from 2005 to 2007.

• Small, but significant, percentages of respondents reported watching television via desktop computers (14%), laptops (9%), video-enabled mobile phones (6%), or other portable video players (5%).

• While a large percent (82%) of adults in this study own a mobile phone, only 7% subscribe to a video downloading service. Of those respondents who own a video iPod, 35% have never watched a video on it, 16% watch videos two or three times a month, 14% watch videos once a week, and 9% watch videos daily via iPod.

Here are some more interesting responses from the survey:

Which TV related activities have you done online?
Read background info about a show’s cast member 39%
Viewed a show’s previews 38%
Read background info about the show or the show’s characters 37%
Viewed a behind-the-scenes video clip 27%
Read or viewed a show’s cast member interview 26%
Viewed a show’s bloopers 22%
Viewed a show’s deleted scenes 20%

Asked to choose among seventeen online content categories, online television viewers said they prefer to watch shorter video clips when they go online. Specifically, movie trailers (53%), user generated videos (45%), music videos and general news segments (37%), comedy programs (31%), and sports clips (31%) were respondents’ top choices.

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