Let’s clear things up on streaming vs linear TV
A view from Matt Hill

Let’s clear things up on streaming vs linear TV

Samsung Ads’ recent report gives a partial picture of viewing habits, Thinkbox, the trade body for TV advertising, says.

If you hold a magnifying glass over one area of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, you might think it is a painting of a beautiful vase.

Bear that in mind as you read headlines about Samsung Ads’ second report in six months heralding that streaming TV has overtaken linear TV. Play it again, Samsung. 

The problem is Samsung’s magnifying glass. Its reports are built on limited, partial data, based solely on the use of Samsung Smart TVs. 

So, they’re not even representative of all TV sets, let alone all TV viewers, and do not represent viewing patterns as whole. They have no idea what types of TV are being watched on other TV sets in a household, for example.

But Samsung calls its report “the holistic view advertisers need”. Well.

Let’s clear things up for the record. The reality of TV viewing is set out here from transparent data sources that are representative of the UK population:

In 2020, the average person watched 35.5 minutes of subscription VOD a day and 16 minutes of broadcaster VOD. That’s a total of 51.5 mins a day streaming – in the UK, an advanced market for streaming. 

Alongside this they watched three hours and six minutes of linear TV a day (live and playback), so linear is three times bigger than streaming.

Now, I don’t seek to denigrate streaming in any way; it’s the direction of travel in TV and very exciting. At Thinkbox, we get how TV is changing and we champion broadcaster streaming as much as we do linear TV. Streaming is growing, rapidly.

But you don’t need to be Machiavelli to see why Samsung might want to denigrate linear TV. It sells non-broadcaster AVOD inventory (Samsung TV Plus and Rakuten TV). It does it no harm if people think streaming is bigger than it actually is – and headline writers sadly oblige.

But beware the hype. Preliminary router data from BARB – an organisation allergic to hype – provides some interesting insight into what TV-set streaming viewing really consists of. 

In February 2021, 62% of TV streaming was subscription VOD, 19% was to broadcaster VOD, and 19% was to YouTube.  

Where’s AVOD? BARB found no measurable time spent with AVOD services such as Rakuten TV and TV Plus. Yet, Samsung’s latest report says AVOD services are collectively bigger than broadcaster VOD.

The reason Samsung can make this remarkable claim is because it welds AVOD services like its own TV Plus and Rakuten together with YouTube and calls it all AVOD. 

I repeat: streaming is a wonderful form of TV viewing, full of opportunity for the future of the TV industry, for both viewers and advertisers. 

Equally, the data that Samsung has could be part of TV audience measurement for more granular analyses. 

But that data should not be weaponised to undermine the role of linear TV and hype the scale of opportunity currently in their space. Please, Samsung, let people see the sunflowers, too.

Matt Hill is research and planning director at Thinkbox

Photo: Basak Gurbuz Derman/Getty Images