Research from Hill Holliday's 4th Annual TVnext(SM) Summit Reveals TV Viewers' Changing Habits, Conflicted Feelings

Survey Indicates Despite Rapid Change, TV Set Still Sits at Center of the Digital Home

"Choice Fatigue" is a Growing Challenge

Oct 20, 2014, 09:30 ET from Hill Holliday

BOSTON, Oct. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Hill Holliday, one of the nation's largest marketing agencies, today released the results of research projects conducted to examine shifting attitudes toward television, issued to coincide with the 4th annual Hill Holliday TVnext℠ Summit.

Despite the proliferation of devices consumers have available to watch television, the television set remains the center of many people's living rooms -- and other rooms as well. Nearly a third of respondents reported having two functional TV sets in their homes, and more than a quarter reported having three TV sets. Nearly 91 percent of survey respondents indicated that the TV set remains the device on which they watch television content most often, compared to laptops (12%), tablets (5%), and smartphones (3%).

What's changing is not whether people watch TV -- only 2 percent reported not watching TV at all -- but how they watch it. Fewer than half of the survey's respondents (41%) indicated that they preferred watching their favorite shows live. The majority was split between time-shifting (43%), binge watching (19%), or watching on demand otherwise (19%). Respondents were allowed to indicate multiple options.

Approximately one in ten of the survey respondents indicated that they have connected at least one of the new-generation devices to their TV sets in the past year – AppleTV, Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, a tablet, a smartphone, and even digital camera. That's in addition to gaming consoles, Blu-ray players and computers that pump news and entertainment onto the TV screens of more than 25 percent of respondents. In one surprising finding, 17 percent of people said they still have a VCR hooked up to their TV. Online retailer Amazon still lists several new DVD/VCR combo players for sale at prices that range from $89 to $152

The survey of 500 US adults was conducted online in partnership with Research Now in October 2014. 

TV is a Deep Ocean

"You can think of television as a giant complex ecosystem similar to an ocean," Ilya Vedrashko, Hill Holliday's head of research, said. "The surface layers of the TV ocean are undergoing a tsunami of change. Programming changes daily, genres flourish and perish, new devices are born to feed on the old and feeble. But near the bottom, in the darkness, you have this TV screen that's been sitting there near the wall for the past 60 years. The bottom, of course, is undergoing its own inevitable changes, but those changes are both a lot slower than the ones near the surface and are of a much greater magnitude."

Too Much of a Good Thing?

The growing number of programming options available at a given moment, compounded by the parallel emergence of new devices, has an unintended effect on the audience: for many, TV is becoming too much work. 90 percent of the survey respondents indicated a past experience of taking a long time to decide what to watch, and only a quarter of respondents report feeling happy or excited while choosing something that is supposed to provide them with a few moments of escape. 38 percent report often feeling that there's nothing interesting to watch. "You think of the Bruce Springsteen song, and you think how it's now way more than 57 channels, devices, and subscription services -- and for many, there's still nothin' on," Vedrashko said.

"We've been hearing from people about TV choices being a lot of work. Once, we conducted an experiment where we picked six typical families, and replaced their cable boxes with one of the new TV devices – AppleTV, Roku, etc – for one week. Our findings caused somewhat of a splash in tech media when our families reported back that they missed how easy cable TV was. You turn it on once, and it's not always interesting so you tune in and out, but you don't have to babysit it trying to find something else to watch every hour."

An Opportunity to Guide Viewers

The research revealed opportunities for designers of TV consumption interfaces to guide viewers' decisions and reduce their choice fatigue.

In a separate online experiment, researchers from Hill Holliday and Northeastern University investigated factors that influence viewers' choice of programming options.

"When someone fires up Netflix and sees rows of movies they never heard about, how do they go about picking something to watch? What clues do they rely on?" said Henry Bruce, a Hill Holliday researcher who directed the study.

More than 900 US adults recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk participated in the October 2014 study prepared for the Hill Holliday TVnext℠ Summit.

The research team designed a fictional interface similar to Netflix and other on-demand services, and presented the participants with several sets of three TV shows. From each set, the participants were instructed to select one show they most wanted to watch. To control for existing biases towards specific titles, actors or genres, all of the options were Chinese TV shows unavailable in the United States. The visuals displayed on the screen were entirely in Chinese. On-screen clues (the effects of which were tested in the study) included a description in English, star rating, audience rating, a "recommended" symbol, and a symbol of a fictional award. 

"People rely heavily on star ratings to guide their choice," said Bruce. "The chance a particular show would be selected increased by 15 percent with every additional star."

Researchers also placed logos of fictional awards next to some of the shows. "Shows with an 'award' nobody has ever heard of – because we made it up -- were picked nearly twice as often as shows without the 'award,'" Bruce said. "Obviously, we don't suggest Netflix and others make up award logos, but it's clear that some cues can help people navigate the programming landscape."

In a 2011 study, Hill Holliday researchers showed how tweaking one-sentence movie descriptions could lead to a fourfold difference in the number of people choosing one option over the other. With the threat of choice fatigue, it seems marketing matters more than ever.

Now in its fourth year, Hill Holliday's TVnext℠ Summit explores the future of television with a focus on modern audience behavior, tech advances, programming innovation, and advertising implications.

About Hill Holliday

Hill Holliday is proud to be among the top creative marketing agencies in the country, with 950 employees across its network. We work on some of the nation's largest and most respected brands, and our success came by putting people and ideas first. We were founded in 1968 and today we bring unbeatable talent and expertise to every area of modern communications on behalf of industry leaders like Verizon Wireless, Bank of America, Dunkin' Donuts, LG, (RED), John Hancock, Major League Baseball, TJX, Merrell, Capella University, Chili's, Novartis, Great Wolf Resorts and WHOLE WORLD Water. For more about our people, our work, and our culture, please visit http://www.hhcc.com.

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