Insights from TV Tuning Behavior Data

Friday, July 25, 2008 | 4:08 PM

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This is the first post in a series we'll share throughout the year featuring insights we've derived from data on television audience tuning behavior.

Each week, Google processes data from millions of anonymized set-top boxes (STBs), including which channels each STB was tuned to, second-by-second. This data is provided by our partner, EchoStar. We're then able to provide advertisers with next-day reports of how many impressions were delivered to each ad airing, as well as tuning metrics, such as what percentage of the audience stayed tuned to their ad from beginning to end.

We've been looking at this data since before Google TV Ads launched, and have learned some interesting things about how viewers engage with TV commercials. The first thing we've learned is that on average, between 5-15% of viewers tune away from a channel as soon as a commercial break begins. The chart below shows the percentage of the total audience tuned to a given channel before, during and after a commercial break:

(Click on the image for a full-size version)

The section labeled from "Begin" to "End" shows the duration of the commercial break, and the section highlighted in gray shows when one particular commercial actually aired. We can see that about 4.5% of the audience tunes away almost as soon as the break starts, and another 0.5% or so leave during the commercials. You can see from the gray section on the chart labeled "Ad Airing" that about 0.5% of the audience left during this particular commercial.

So if such a small percentage of viewers tune away during commercials, why should we care about what they do? Well, behavior during commercials generally follows a very consistent and predictable pattern. So when viewers tune away from an ad, they are voting with their remote controls. These "votes" can be useful information, because they might tell us when viewers aren't finding certain ads interesting or relevant, and they bring us closer to understanding when TV ads are relevant to viewers. The animation below shows how many STBs tuned away from a commercial during each of the 30 seconds an ad aired. Each image in the animation is an average of all airings during one of the first 10 weeks of 2008. The peak tune-away is at second three, after which the tune-away rate gradually declines. This basic shape is remarkably consistent. If we look at the average per-second tune-away for all commercial week-by-week, we see very little change to the overall pattern.

(Click on the image to see animation)

Many factors affect audience behavior, including the nature of the programming, the time of day, the day of week, and, of course, the personality of each viewer. But ads themselves can also have an impact. If we could ensure that viewers were seeing only the advertising messages most relevant to them, everyone would benefit.

Posted by Dan Zigmond, Technical Lead for Google TV Ads