Dave the Research Grouch: Variety and Cowan

Variety logoLast week, Variety (and multiple others) published a report on a new study from Cowan & Co. on Netflix use, and it’s hard to decide at whom to get grouchy. At Variety, for writing up an article with no context, or Cowan for dropping survey results without publishing any details about their study.

Let’s look at the headline first – “Netflix Is No. 1 Choice for TV Viewing, Beating Broadcast, Cable and YouTube (Study)”. What, according to the article, did the survey results actually say? That people self-reported they used Netflix (27%) “more often” to view than cable TV (20%) or broadcast TV (18%).

Let’s parse this out a bit. First, consider that Nielsen reported in Q1 2017 that 90% of viewing time is still on traditional TV networks. Sure, there are issues with Nielsen but even so it is reasonable to assume that it’s not too far off. This means that in terms of actual viewing time among the total population, Netflix is nowhere near the most-watched platform despite what people may say they “use most often.”

Second is the rather subjective decision to compare broadcast and cable separately against Netflix. It’s been my experience that people with a streaming agenda tend to also be the ones who say viewers can’t tell or don’t care about cable vs broadcast. But that would ruin the headline, because it would change to “Legacy TV Networks Are No. 1 Choice for TV Viewing [38%], Beating Netflix [27%] and YouTube.”

This point is emphasized further when the data for homes with pay TV are shown. Most trusted studies show that a majority of Netflix homes still have pay TV in some form, and here the difference is even more pronounced, with 45% choosing legacy broadcast or cable and 24% Netflix. No attention-getting, disruptive headline from that.

The Frowns are Awarded

Thus a big Research Grouch frown is aimed at Variety (and other sites) for publishing these data without any context at all – context one would hope the beat writers in this area would know enough to include.

Cowan doesn’t escape without a frown either, for my pet peeve – promoting a study without publishing anything about it on their own site. I could not find anything on their website or a press release with which to follow-up. I understand that we don’t need a dissertation, but if you’re going to promote research, then at least have some basic details available to read outside the lens of the press, who (from experience) are notoriously fast-and-loose with their interpretation of research results. What age was the sample? When was it fielded? How was it weighted?

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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