TV's Shrinking Audience Not All Shifting to Web

Online-Video Viewership Is Up, but Not Enough to Account for Losses

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NEW YORK ( -- Last week a meme rumbled through the web touting the writers strike as the booster behind increased online-video traffic. The assumption was logical but incorrect.

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To be clear, online video is growing, strike or no strike. But a look at the Nielsen Online video trend report (a compilation of 10 major video sites) suggests little visible acceleration between November, when the strike began, and December, the most recent month for which viewer data are available. In fact, by unique visitors, December was actually down from November, although time spent with video sites was up. And a look at the past 13 months indicates that the recent fluctuation is nothing out of the ordinary. Online-video usage grew more in June than it did in December or November.

Even if marketers looking to replace the 11% drop in prime-time ratings decide to shift millions into the online-video marketplace, there's not nearly enough inventory. "We're seeing from some of our video partners that they're not delivering on guaranteed numbers as it is now, so if there's an influx of dollars, it's going to be a problem," said Adam Kasper, senior VP-director of digital media at Media Contacts. A big issue is the scale difference between the two channels: 1.5 million views online is considered a hit, while an audience of 1.5 million on broadcast is a failure.

Excess demand
Dina Kaplan, co-founder and president of, which hosts and sells advertising for independent online-video producers, said the floodgates have started to open, but how much money online-video sellers will be able to accept remains to be seen. "A month ago the sky parted, and we have more ad requests than we can handle," she said. "It'll be tough for just about any web-video site to absorb TV dollars." According to eMarketer, online-video ad spending is expected to be $1.4 billion in 2008; TV is a $70 billion business.

Another hindrance is that ad formats don't necessarily translate. Many video sites don't offer the 30-second units marketers are looking for. Ms. Kaplan recalled the pain of turning down a seven-figure deal because the marketer wouldn't budge on the 30-second format.

Places that do accept 30-second spots: the online arms of the TV networks. But inventory is very tight, Mr. Kasper said. "Their sites are somewhat 'comfort zones' for big TV advertisers and often packaged in with TV buys. They tend to be the first place many go, adding to the higher demand and CPMs."
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