Why TV Needs Hulu and Marketers Need TV

With the 2010 Winter Olympics in full swing, few of us are wandering far from our televisions these days. This isn’t to say, however, that it’s the only thing we’re watching. According to recent Nielsen figures, so far television – and cable TV in particular – has had a very good year.

For A&E, HGTV, Nickelodeon, Oxygen, and truTV, last month delivered the best January ratings these channels had ever seen. Naturally, all cite their unique programming as the driving force behind their record viewership, but a Forrester Research media analyst recently suggested something else might be contributing to their success.

That something, you may be surprised to hear, is Hulu.com. According to James McQuivey as quoted in a Forbes.com blog, the streaming video site that offers online access to popular TV shows and movies isn’t just entertaining consumers. It’s also reminding them just how much they love TV to begin with. That’s leading to increased online viewership and increased viewership of traditional TV – including those niche channels mentioned above.

According to Nielsen data for December 2009, the average American watched more than 31 hours of TV per week – nearly the time equivalent of a full-time job. While this consumer spends only 22 minutes watching videos online, comScore Video Metrix reports that December also saw a record 1 billion videos watched on Hulu.

McQuivey isn’t the only one to make this association. Last year, YouTube spokesperson Chris Dale told online video resource Beet.TV that he “actually started watching more BBC programming on the TV because I watched and enjoyed some of the content we have on YouTube.” He ended his account by emphatically stating that, “Online video drives traffic and engagement.”

Until now, analysts have assumed online video would eventually cannibalize TV. As recently as 2008, IBM released a study that confirmed video viewing was up and, as a result, TV viewing was down. “Place-shifting alternatives may be changing consumer couch-potato behavior,” the study said. Two years later, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

“The cannibalization myth doesn’t hold up under scrutiny,” YouTube’s Dale said.

In reality, everyone is benefiting from society’s interest in video content, whether it comes in the form of a YouTube video or a network television show. They’ll go wherever they need to go to find what they want to see, including their iPhones and BlackBerrys during the day and their home flat screens during prime time hours at night.

Although, as indicated by the Nielsen report nearly 99 percent of all video content in America is still viewed on traditional TV, online video is clearly still on the rise, and there’s definitely reason to connect the dots between the two. It’s a theory that’s bound to give digital marketers pause.

There’s an important relationship between TV and the Web; we’ve known this for years and continue to embrace it even now. Simultaneous media usage has become commonplace, and marketers are responding by creating multichannel cross-media campaigns that drive consumers from TV to the Web (and back), whether it be to garner further information, view additional content, or generate a conversion. Ours is a society of instant gratification, and this is perhaps no more prominent than in our relationship with digital media and our proclivity toward completing an action online that was first introduced on TV.

These new figures, however, are indicative of an even stronger bond between these two mediums, and will require some deeper analysis on our part of what we’re doing to link them. It may even require a shift in strategy.

We need to invite all of these media channels into our marketing plans. Our cross-media campaigns can’t end with buying a :30 spot on a popular ABC program and sponsorship on the associated site page on ABC.com. We need to consider where else our target consumers are also consuming video content, and extend our reach to those sites.

It still makes sense for us to incorporate television advertising into our campaigns, and to cast our net onto TV sites. But our efforts wouldn’t be complete without ads on the likes of Hulu, YouTube, Metacafe, and Break.com. We need both TV and online video sites, just the way that TV and online video seem to need each other.

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