Convergence Consumer Survey 2008

November 19, 2008

‘Converging Media: The Olswang Convergence Consumer Survey 2008’, launched this week, shows respondents from the British public are adopting an on-demand lifestyle of choice and control enabled by converging technologies.  The widespread take-up of online TV services like the BBC iPlayer , along with significant penetration and use of Sky+ and on-demand TV services (such as Virgin On Demand) is delivering a wholesale change to the way in which respondents relate to television programmes and, to a lesser extent, movies.  The consumption of audiovisual content is beginning a transformation which may already be reaching its destination for the consumption of music.  While there remain huge pressures for content to be free, the hunger for people to watch ‘what they want, when they want’ creates real opportunities for content owners and other businesses to profit from what is becoming a ‘Digital Britain’. The full survey can be accessed at

Olswang’s fourth annual survey, conducted in conjunction with YouGov, comprised a survey of 1,162 GB consumers[1][, supported by a series of in-depth online focus groups. The Survey and online focus groups analyse the experiences and attitudes of four key demographic segments whose adoption of new technologies and use of them to consume content – legal and otherwise – indicates the speed and scale of this convergence.  The four key demographic segments include two which would be expected to ride the convergence wave – the ‘Tech Vanguard’ and the ‘Kids’ (13 to 15 year olds), as well as segments representing the ‘Mainstream’ and the ‘Laggards’ – who help us to understand whether convergence is happening for everyone or whether there are some to whom it will never be of interest.

Choice and Control – here, now and on a TV set near you

While more people still watch live TV more frequently than any other form of television, large numbers of respondents, the Tech Vanguard group especially, are spending significant chunks of time watching programmes on their TV sets from a variety of other sources: in particular, DVD recorders, digital video recorders (DVRs) and personal video recorders (PVRs) (such as Sky+), from which more than a third (36%) are watching television content for at least five hours per week; on demand services, such as BT Vision and Virgin Media, from which 16% of Tech Vanguard respondents are watching five hours or more per week; and television programmes on pre-recorded DVDs (bought or rented), from which 15% are watching five hours or more per week. This behaviour is not limited to the Tech Vanguard; one Mainstream focus group participant observed, ‘I…watch a lot of ‘on demand’ programmes…It means I can be a lot more relaxed in the way I plan my life and don’t think ‘did I set the recorder properly’.’

The BBC iPlayer – the service today for choice and control of TV shows

Almost a quarter (24%) of respondents (and more than 40% of the Tech Vanguard) are watching through iPlayer for at least one hour a week.  17% watch legitimate online TV services other than iPlayer for at least one hour a week and 9% (admit to) watching illegal online TV for at least one hour a week.  This adds up to a huge amount of online TV. John Enser, Media, Communications and Technology Partner at Olswang, said, ‘Our fourth Convergence Consumer Survey shows that iPlayer has been the catalyst to transform online television from a minority interest into a daily activity, much as iPod and iTunes did for digital music.’

The iPlayer is the service most used by the overwhelming majority of the survey base to watch online TV, with 69% of respondents using iPlayer more than any other online service. Catch-up TV in particular is fast becoming a part of daily life: of those watching online TV, 6% (and 10% of the Kids surveyed) visit an online service daily for catch-up content, 54% doing so at least weekly and 81% doing so at least once a month. 

The respondents are changing the way they view traditional media and converging technologies, and the potential of the computer as an entertainment device is being embraced by many: ‘My computer also serves as a hub for my consumption activities. For example content from it is regularly converted and transferred to other devices such as my iPod for mobile consumption’ (Tech Vanguard focus group participant).

A hierarchy of content sources

A ‘hierarchy of choice’ is also becoming apparent as people become more sophisticated in their consumption of TV content – if a person has chosen not to watch (or has missed) something live, then typically they would look to watch it on big screen TV recorded from the PVR, or using an ‘on-demand to TV’ service, and only if it is not available through that route will the content be sought online using a PC through a service like iPlayer. 

Those who embrace piracy, of course, have a different set of choices – ‘I would look at BitTorrent sites I always use. They always have the content I’m looking for. If it’s BBC stuff I’ll look on iPlayer first though’ – (Tech Vanguard focus group participant).

Challenges for online video content

Despite the success of the iPlayer, significant challenges, in addition to piracy, lie ahead for providers of online television services. Some of these are new, others are well-known.

1.  Resistance from Laggards: The first new challenge is an apparent chasm between the attitudes of the Laggards and the other respondents.  The survey methodology used means that all of the Laggards surveyed are online and use the internet regularly for surfing, email, and other activities.  This was supported anecdotally in the focus groups (perhaps most clearly with the comment ‘If my internet goes down it feels as though my arm has been cut off!’)

However, for many of those surveyed, this love of the PC and internet does not yet seem to be developing into a love of using those technologies to consume TV, music or other entertainment.  Similarly in the focus groups, some Laggards resent the TV ‘ruling’ their lives or simply don’t want to use a computer to seek out something they have missed: ‘I just see my PC as a place to use the internet and don’t bother watching TV on it’.  It will be a challenge for businesses to educate these people so that they also become consumers of digital content, and not simply regard their computers as information and communication devices.

2.  What are your kids doing? The second newly revealed challenge is to ensure parents understand what their kids are watching online.  This is not just about illicit content; it is also about lawful content.  For example, in the online focus groups, the most mentioned programme for online watching among 13 to 15 year old Kids was Mock the Week, a post-watershed show on BBC2.  Other programmes are also watched against parental wishes, as one Kid told us: ‘well, my mum and dad don’t let me watch Eastenders, and on the internet, you can view it without them knowing =].’

3.  Payment Among the challenges revealed in previous Olswang Convergence Consumer surveys, two remain at the forefront.  Payment continues to drive many people’s choice of whether and what to consume online.  Over 70% of respondents would be encouraged to consume more online TV content if they could do so for free and without ads.  But more worrying than what people would like to do is the evidence of what people are already doing – choosing illegal, free sources over legal, paid for ones:

‘I don’t feel the need to pay for content, as everything I want to see or hear, from live footy to film, applications are all available to me at the click of a mouse’ (Tech Vanguard focus group participant).

However, this does not mean everyone, even among those pirating today, rejects outright the notion of directly or indirectly paying for online content.  Focus group participants identified potentially acceptable payment structures: the ‘bundling’ of content as part of a subscription to another service (e.g. ‘traditional pay TV’ or broadband), and potential incremental payment for a high quality service. 

4.  Sofa and big screen.  In previous years, the Olswang Convergence Consumer Survey also found that a key barrier to convergence was that people want to watch television in the comfort of their sitting room.  This remains the case.  However, some in the Tech Vanguard focus groups have overcome this barrier, for example by connecting their PC to their TV screen; a couple of our respondents spoke of 42’ screens on which they could display content from their PC.  Others spoke of the promise of devices such as the Apple TV – what is clear is that many respondents now see and understand the gap that such a device would fill – and there is a real opportunity for mass-market take-up of such products.

‘Being able to access the internet from the living room main TV will be the next big thing for all users this will allow for a new market for downloading/streaming…’

Matthew Phillips, Media, Communications and Technology Partner at Olswang, said, ‘Consumers now have choice and control over what to watch and when.  However, this year’s Survey confirms there remains a minority of sceptics who reject this model and who may only be persuaded once they have an easy way to watch online content from their sofa.’

Movies – the ‘experience’ triumphs (for now)

‘I love to watch DVDs with the family at home but it’s rare. We’d rather go to the movie, make an event of it’ (Tech Vanguard focus group)

The mantra of choice and control takes second place to the experience of cinema-going.  Respondents across all of the focus groups agreed that ‘Cinema is still the best way to watch a good film’. One Tech Vanguard respondent explained, ‘That’s why the cinema is still popular, because of the experience capturing you.’

The next best thing to visiting the cinema is the DVD, which remains hugely popular among consumers – both for movies and also for watching TV shows. For movie consumption, the pre-recorded DVD is the most frequently used playback medium, with 53% of respondents spending at least an hour a week watching movies from pre-recorded DVDs and 41% watching TV shows from DVD for at least an hour a week.  One of the things the Survey highlights is how the DVD‘s value is in part about its flexibility – you can choose to play it on a large TV set in the sitting room, in a laptop in your bedroom, or at a friend’s house.

At least for the time being, the length of time it takes to download a movie, quality concerns and the presumed difficulty with taking a downloaded movie to another device all add up to less enthusiasm for online movies than for other forms of audiovisual content: ‘Plus you get the bloopers and stuff which makes the dvd lol’ (Kids focus group participant); ‘I watch movies at the cinema. I have downloaded a couple over the internet but the content was not that good so don’t think i will bother again’ (Mainstream focus group participant); ‘…it would have to be a fantastic film to make me sit here on this chair up to a pc’ (Laggards focus group participant).

However, there remain challenges – people want their movies straight away after cinema release and many are willing to get them illegally – ‘I download films mainly through Bit Torrent. I recently downloaded Iron Man as it’s available online in good quality but isn’t out any where on DVD yet.’  [note – focus group conducted prior to recent release of Iron Man]

Music – the first truly converged content category

Music use has become truly converged among many of our respondents, leaving aside the Laggards, Listening to music that has been ripped onto a computer from CD is an activity undertaken with a similar frequency to listening to actual CDs, and listening to music downloaded from the internet is approaching the same levels of use.  It is a similar story on portable devices which are used ‘frequently’ or ‘sometimes’ by 81% of the Kids but only 22% of Laggards. 

14% of respondents download music from legitimate sites at least once a week, and 10% admit to downloading music from illegal sites at least once a week.  Where focus group participants acquire music legally, they tend to use both legitimate digital services (notably iTunes) as well as online and traditional CD retailers depending on how many tracks they want and how much they like the music.

Perhaps the most interesting fact revealed by the Survey about music use is the move, especially among Kids, away from the radio and towards YouTube.  While the music industry has looked to embrace YouTube and share in its advertising revenue, it is notable that YouTube is also seen by members of our focus groups as a ‘try before you pirate’ medium. One participant in a Kids focus group commented, ‘I find stuff on u tube and use this thing called hi-jak where you record it onto an mp3 from the video.’

Pirating isn’t a crime – it’s a lifestyle’ (Tech Vanguard focus group)

Across the survey base as a whole, 10% say they download or stream music illegally, with 7% illegally streaming/downloading movies and TV shows equally, and 4% illegally streaming/downloading games.  These figures are likely to understate the true levels of piracy online, as people remain reticent about admitting breaking the law.  Among our respondents, almost all of the Kids and Tech Vanguard groups owned up to some levels of piracy with only two people in the Tech Vanguard focus group expressing any moral qualms about it.  One reformed pirate admitted: ‘I used to think it was OK to download but it has hit me more and more that this is stealing, it’s not OK for me to do this’, and later went on to say, ‘Its nicking it, it feels OK but leaves an aftertaste’.

The Kids group seemed more afraid of getting caught than about any principled recognition that what they were doing was wrong – arnt they catchin people who use it tho …my mayte sed they wa! so i aint usin it lol…if they catch u, u get a letter off the fbi giving u a warning and if u break it u get put in prison if ur over 16’ [note – we take the reference to the FBI to be intended to refer to the BPI – the record industry’s trade body and principal piracy enforcement agency].

Some of the more sophisticated participants simply felt it was a matter of choice and control – ‘Obviously I would prefer to use legal services but none of them can currently compete with the illegal ones. The chance of getting caught is so minute to be a non concern’.

Clearly the BPI and others involved in the battle against piracy need to continue with their efforts to educate people as to the ill-effects of piracy and to seek sanctions against those who have no qualms about  piracy or fear of getting caught.

Our respondents’ visions of the future

Some respondents lament the loss of some of the ‘social’ aspects of traditional TV viewing – the ‘water cooler’ moment and the show that you just happen upon when browsing through the channels – both of which are displaced in an on-demand world – ‘I still prefer normal TV. I like talking about some programmes like Top Gear with people the next day’ (Tech Vanguard focus group).

Whatever businesses in the digital value chain believe, consumers have their own views of the future of converging technologies:

·         ‘I can see the streaming of music increasing. It is a good way to try before buying and opens up your experience to all sorts of music I may not have looked at.’

·         ‘I expect a pay per month system soon to be widely available, if not already. Where you are allowed to download X amounts per day. Your files will be available via the web to be played via any music player within your car, computer, house etc CD’s will totally disappear in 5-10years I believe.’

·         ‘I think you will have one machine that is TV DVD computer radio, it will do 3d and surround sound, have a web cam, and prob be voice activated. maybe with an inbuilt coffee machine or beer dispenser (joke, but who knows)’

·         ‘Being able to access the internet from the living room main TV will be the next big thing for all users this will allow for a new market for downloading/streaming films’

There are clear opportunities to harness this consumer enthusiasm for the new converging media, as long as businesses listen to what consumers are saying and look for ways to meet these demands in the emerging ‘Digital Britain’.


[1] 1162 respondents, made up of and 927 adults (18+) and 235 children (between the ages of 13-15).