Survey: One in three voters opting out of live TV

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Voters are watching less live TV, which has strategists warning campaigns to adjust their media plans. 


A new bipartisan study suggests a substantial number of likely voters are gravitating away from live television viewing.

It’s a finding that could have real implications for how campaigns decide to spend their media dollars in 2012 and it has a group of political consultants warning that media consumption habits are changing more rapidly than previously thought.

According to a survey commissioned by SAY Media and conducted earlier this spring by Public Opinion Strategies and SEA Polling, close to one-third of likely voters nationwide said they had not watched live TV in the past week and 45 percent said live TV isn’t their primary mode of consuming video. 

Another 40 percent of likely voters own a DVR and nearly 90 percent of them said they regularly skip ads when watching recorded programming.

The real surprise in the findings, says Josh Koster, managing partner at the Democratic firm Chong + Koster, isn’t the overall trend they show, it’s the sheer number of voters he claims are already unreachable through traditional media.    

“I was shocked at the number of people you now have to reach through other means,” says Koster, whose firm was one of two digital media consultancies to help spearhead the research.

Along with Chong + Koster, SAY Media teamed with Michael Beach of the Republican firm Targeted Victory and pollsters Neil Newhouse and Thomas Eldon. The data is sure to add fuel to the already fiery debate in the political industry between more traditional media strategists and those pushing campaigns to dramatically increase their digital spend.      

The message for campaigns, says Newhouse, is simple: Voters aren’t watching your television ads much anymore and it’s going to necessitate a new model to effectively communicate with voters this cycle.    

“You’re looking at the beginning of a trend in terms of how people are consuming TV and it’s led by younger Americans,” says Newhouse. “We’re seeing it all here in the data.”

Overall, 57 percent of likely voters still identify live TV as their primary mode of video consumption. But the biggest gap is generational. Among likely voters age 18-44, that number drops to just 44 percent.

Within that same age group, 36% of likely voters say they watch less live TV than they did a year ago. That’s compared to just 15% of voters age 45 and over who said the same.

In addition to a nationwide sample of 800 likely voters, an additional 300 likely voters in the battleground states of Ohio and Florida were surveyed. Both states mostly mirrored the national trend, but in Ohio the number of likely voters who said they hadn’t watched live TV in the past week was seven percentage points higher than the national number.

A full 38 percent of Ohio voters said they hadn’t watched live TV in the past week. Nationally, the number was 31 percent. 

From SAY Media’s white paper released Thursday that lays out the survey’s findings:

“While all marketers should recognize this shift in consumer behavior as a major challenge that requires them to reconsider their media strategy, political media specialists have a particular challenge. Traditional, television-based campaigning reaches a significant and desirable portion of the voting public. To succeed in the next election cycle and maximize reach among the dwindling supply of swayable voters, political campaigns must re-evaluate their outreach strategies to ensure they are making the most of their campaign spend.

“This challenge extends beyond the 2012 election—as younger voters continue to move away from live TV and a new generation of voters enters the booths, interruptive ad models like television will continue to decline in effectiveness while being increasingly inefficient from a cost perspective.”

The survey, conducted May 22-25, has a national margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.46%. The margin of error for the Ohio numbers is 5.39%. 

As for the group’s overall recommendations: You guessed it—spend less money on TV. In order to reach the increasing number of likely voters who are quickly moving away from live television viewing, they suggest that a “reduction in frequency on the broadcast side” would prove to be “a budget-neutral way to increase communication efficiently.”   

Other recommendations include exploring “engagement-based advertising models,” which come at a cost to campaigns only when a voter actually consumes the message.

“We’re not going to convince every campaign,” admits Newhouse, but he says the smart campaigns will be those that keep tinkering with their voter outreach strategies to achieve the right media mix in light of the new data.

“This really begins to shine a light on the changing media habits of the electorate and those consultants who don’t at least pay attention to this are risking the success of their campaigns.”


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