Only abnormal people watch a lot of video on their smartphones


Ok, I am trolling you a bit. But what if I told you that 10% of American adults watch 85% of all the video seen on American smartphones (web OR apps?) From a statistical perspective, “normal” American adults don’t use their smartphones for significant amounts of video.

This is all based on the Nielsen Cross Platform Report for the fourth quarter of 2013. It features the following chart, which makes it look like watching videos on smartphones is a big and fast-growing phenomenon. And it is!

Nielsen Smartphone Viewing

Over a mere 12 month period, Americans 18+ who watched ANY smartphone video rose from about 81 million to almost 102 million individuals, a 26% increase. Further, the average monthly time spent watching video on smartphones rose from just over an hour to nearly one hour and 24 minutes, or just under 40% year-over-year growth. More people watching and each one watching longer: sounds like a big trend. In fact, Americans watched 142 million hours of video per month on their smartphones in Q4 2013, up from 81 million hours the year before, a nearly 75% increase.

All media is consumed unevenly. Some people watch a lot of traditional TV, others watch less, and others watch none. Same with radio, or the internet, or opera. Normally, the distribution is fairly predictable – there is even a name for it: the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle. In business, the traditional phrase is “80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.”

US Smartphone Video

But smartphone video consumption in the US is NOT following that trend. Although just over 100 million Americans 18+ watch video on their smartphones, there are 242 million Americans who are over 18: nearly 60% of Americans NEVER watch video on their phones. Further, if you look at the quartiles of Americans who DO watch at all, you can see that only the top quartile is consuming more than two minutes per day of smartphone video, the rest range from just over a minute a day to just over 3 SECONDS per day!

Looking at it in aggregate, the 25 million American adults who watched the most smartphone video watched about 120 million hours per month, while the other 90% of Americans watched just over 20 million hours. About 10% watch 85%: watching more than two minutes or more video on a smartphone per day is highly abnormal.

[Disclaimer time:

  1. All of the above is based on published Nielsen data. As with any form of media measurement, there may be errors, sampling biases, or other problems.
  2. Next, the Nielsen data for smartphone video is adults only – they do not have data for that metric for younger Americans. It seems likely that those under 18 are watching a fair bit of smartphone video too.
  3. Importantly, the fact that they only have data on 18+ suggests that the smartphone video data is being done through a poll or a panel, rather than the more accurate metered measurement technology. Panels and polls have their uses, but people tend to be inaccurate as self-reported media measurement. Especially about NEW and sexy technologies. When you ask a thousand people how much radio they listened to in the last month, they under-report. And when you ask them how much online video, they tend to overestimate. It seems likely that smartphone video would be the same. Therefore, the Nielsen data (in my view) probably OVERESTIMATES the amount of smartphone video being watched.
  4. Although there are 242 million adult Americans, only 58% owned a smartphone, or just over 140 million people. Therefore, there are three ways of looking at the quartile who watch the most smartphone video. All three are equally true and equally valid.
    1. 85% of all smartphone video is watched by 10% of all adult Americans.
    2. 85% of all smartphone video is watched by 18% of all adult Americans who own a smartphone, including those who watch no video at all. You will note that is fairly close to the Pareto distribution one might expect. From the perspective of smartphone makers, smartphone video is shaking out about as expected. But from the perspective of advertisers who are comparing smartphone video reach to something like TV, the total population is likely more relevant.
    3. 85% of all smartphone video is watched by 25% of all adult Americans who own a smartphone and watch any video on the device at all.
  5. This all needs to be placed in context of overall video watching. According to Nielsen, the average American over the age of two spends 191 hours per month watching live TV, time-shifted TV, a DVD/BluRay device, a game console (some portion of which is stuff like Netflix), or video on the internet but not on a smartphone. In other words, even for the 20 million American adults who watch the most video on a smartphone of just under 5 hours per month, that represents less than 3% of their total monthly video consumption.
  6. When I first wrote this post, I put up the pie chart above. It occurred to me that there are other ways of depicting the numbers. Below I have attached a pie chart showing all adult Americans, and it shows the various populations (in millions of people) and which viewing bucket they fit in. Same data, just though a different filter.]
    Nielsen smartphone V2

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