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Duncan Stewart

For an analyst, the devil is in the data Add to ...

11. The top right chart is very problematic. They have done the quintiles on TV viewing, not content streaming, and are once again looking only at the 18-34 demographic. It is true that those that watch the least TV do the most streaming… but can a difference of two minutes per day between that quintile and the cluster of the other four quintiles really be considered meaningful?

Important note: this data is the virtually full set of all 18-34 year old respondents, which is why the daily streaming minutes have dropped so far. Once you include the almost 40 per cent of Americans who stream no content, the average American 18-34 year old -- supposedly the cohort that is often reported as being the group "massively shifting to streaming" -- watches about 35-times as much TV as they do streamed content.

Another aside, that top quintile is quite something. We've always known that older people and kids park themselves in front of the TV all day, but this data says that 20 per cent of American 18-34 year olds (a group that one would think has better things to do) watch 522 minutes of TV per day - that's almost 9 hours.

12. I applaud Nielsen's caution in describing the results as "emerging behaviour shift." That is statistics speak for "we think there may be something going on, but we wouldn't want to put a lot of money on it." As in the previous charts, we have all sorts of problems. The range of streaming minutes is ridiculously narrow in Q4 2010 and not much better in Q1 2011 - instead of a one-minute range between the top and the bottom, it is all the way up to 1.3 minutes.

13. But the real red flag is that the various lines cross. Yes, the lightest TV viewers stream the most. But the heaviest viewers stream the second most in both Q4/10 and Q1/11. My favourite is that those who watch 598 minutes of TV per day (almost 10 hours) and those who watch 146.7 minutes - which is a less than 200 per cent range - both stream an identical three minutes of content per day. Couldn't I legitimately write a headline around that saying there is no relationship between streaming and TV watching?

The rest of the report is the usual Nielsen stuff: great data, clearly presented, very transparent with good footnotes, and indispensable to anyone trying to figure this stuff out.

A couple of additional points:

None of my comments are intended to criticize the folks at Nielsen. They present all their data and all their methodologies. Yes, they draw charts and present data to make their conclusions look as strong as possible - but everybody does that. At no point do they willfully misinterpret, misstate or try to hide any data.

Nor am I really criticizing the people who wrote up this study, whether blogger, journalist or analyst. I think most of the articles I read say things that are probably true…but the statements were perhaps more sweeping and stated with greater certitude than the primary data justifies. Not the end of the world, but at least it gave me great material for a column.

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