Saturday night viewing still drives the water-cooler moments

Jeff Zucker, president and chief executive of NBC Universal, recently gave a rousing speech about TV in the digital age.

He said that TV channels need to focus on generating brilliant content and that the distribution of that content is likely to become commoditised sooner rather than later in the US.

This summer, NBC streamed TV coverage of the Olympics simultaneously on mobile and online. Using its new audience measurement system TAMI (Total Audience Measurement Index), the broadcaster found this strategy increased overall audience levels.

As a result, NBC will run coverage of the National Football League online at the same time as its TV broadcast.

Zucker's view is that TV broadcasters should embrace ubiquitous distribution - the key is to get over an antiquated cost structure devised in a totally different age.

As far as a consumer is concerned, the more ways they can watch their favourite programmes, the better. Consumers with busy lives are much less likely to skip great content if they have a choice of where to view it.

If sport, soap, drama and news could be viewed on mobile, internet or TV, then overall rating levels to those programmes would increase. The consumer is becoming distribution neutral, and so is the advertiser.

Advertisers want audiences who are glued to content, so that they will also be enraptured by the ads delivered in or around it. The fact that the audience measurement systems and the commercial trading methods are not media neutral is something we must sort out.

Investments must be based on return on media investment, not on a trading system that has descended from the days when ITV ruled the TV set.

Having said all this, I should, however, quote one channel's head of programming who recently said: "If the TV in the living room didn't exist, then we'd have to invent it."

Whatever else is true about television viewing these days, and however much video is dominating the internet and beginning to penetrate mobile, it is absolutely true that family viewing of event TV on Saturday night has proved extremely successful this year.

On the first Saturday of this month, Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor both attracted audiences in excess of nine million, with audience shares of more than 40%.

So, while we are in the digital age and while fragmentation and multitasking continue to rise, a good family water-cooler show on a Saturday night continues to draw solid viewing figures.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom sue.unerman@haymarket.com

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