Viewers Willing to Tolerate More Commercials Online

Viewers who watch TV shows online are willing to tolerate more commercials than they are currently made to watch, according to a report presented by comScore on Tuesday at the Advertising Research Foundation’s annual convention in New York.

The new report, “Blurring the Landscape, How TV is Merging Digital and Traditional Media,” found that most people who watch TV shows online would tolerate six to seven minutes of advertising per each hour of programming.

While that is considerably less than the 16 minutes of commercial time inserted into the average TV hour, it is also more than the 4 minutes of commercial time generally found in an hour of online programming now.

The conclusion, said Tania Yuki, director of video and cross media products at comScore and the author of the study, is that sites like Hulu are “leaving money on the table.”

The research comes as Hulu’s principals – NBC Universal, News Corp., and Disney – weigh whether to start charging for content. Earlier this month, Comedy Central pulled two of Hulu’s most popular shows, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report,” from the site in a dispute over ad revenue.

Several of the report’s other findings also poke holes in the theory that people watch TV online primarily to avoid advertising.

When asked their reason for watching programs on the Web, 71 percent replied “missed episode on TV;” 57 percent said “convenience,” and only 38 percent said “fewer ads.” Still, when asked why they like watching certain shows online better, 67 percent cited less interference from commercials. The most popular answer, cited by 75 percent of respondents, was being able to watch the show on their own schedule.

The study also shed light on how viewers learn about new shows. Fifty-nine percent of those who watch shows on both TV and the Web said they learned about them through television advertising, 28 percent said online video sites, and 21 percent said social networking sites.

“If you are marketing a program or just trying to reach viewers with your marketing messages, increasingly there is this interdependence between channels,” said Yuki “You get so much more bang for you buck when you consider multiple channels for advertising your show rather than just putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Overall, Yuki said the survey refuted the idea of “a platform war.” The primary evidence: When asked to declare which type of shows they preferred to watch online versus on television – lifestyle, reality, comedy, etc. – respondents overwhelmingly chose TV or said they had no preference at all.

You can follow Douglas Quenqua on Twitter at @DQuenqua.

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