Media Reach: Facebook and TV

August 5, 2013

This article is included in these additional categories:

Boomers & Older | Broadcast & Cable | Media & Entertainment | Mobile Phone | Television | Youth & Gen X

Nielsen-Facebook-v-TV-Reach-by-Age-Aug2013Nielsen last week released a study [download page] comparing the reach of Facebook and TV across day-parts and age groups. The study, which was commissioned by Facebook, argues that ad dollars haven’t migrated to online media as quickly as audiences have, and points to Facebook’s rival – if not greater – pull with youth over the typical TV network. While the researchers admit to their media allocation hypotheses being on the basis of reach only, it’s also fair to ask whether Facebook and TV are even in competition in marketers’ budgets, as argued by this analyst, and whether it’s relevant to make theoretical allocations based only on medium reach. But even if viewed as nothing more than an academic exercise, the study contains some interesting data points.

Before the results, a few notes on methodology:

– The analysis examines the reach of 4 test case TV networks, comparing the individual networks with the digital reach of Facebook. (It’s important to note that in some cases, this is limited to PC access, which would miss up to 20% of Facebook mobile-only users. In other identified cases, mobile use is included.)
– As MediaPost reminds (see link above), Nielsen and Facebook have teamed up, in the sense that the online panel used in the study is on license from Facebook.

That said, the results indicate that during the weekday daytime hours, Facebook’s PC-only reach is greater than either of the networks among all age groups except for the 55-64 and 65+ brackets. The disparity is greatest among the 18-24 (50% reach for Facebook; 21% for the network with the greatest reach) and 25-34 (55% for Facebook; 29% for the network with the highest reach) groups. Takeaway: more young people are on Facebook during work hours than watching network TV.

When it comes to primetime hours, TV wins every age group save for the 18-24 bracket, for which Facebook’s PC-only reach (50%) has greater reach than the network with the widest reach (43%). The average network’s greater reach grows more pronounced with each age group, and is particularly acute among the 65 and up crowd (81% reach for the top-performing network versus 22% reach for Facebook). Takeaway: more people are watching network TV shows at primetime than going on Facebook from their computers, except for that 25-34 group.

Based on the total day, the comparison shows that:

  • Among 18-24-year-olds, Facebook (online and mobile) has greater reach (70%) than any single TV network (61% being the highest);
  • Among 25-34-year-olds, there is more parity, with Facebook at 77% reach, compared to 71-75% reach among the networks;
  • Among 35-54-year-olds, networks have greater reach (82-84% range) than Facebook (73%); and
  • Among those aged 55 and up, networks sport far greater reach (86-91% range) than Facebook (52%).

It’s worth remembering that Facebook (a single social network) is being compared to a single TV network, rather than to TV as a medium (which has reach north of 90% even among early adopter Millennials.)

So on the average day, young people are more likely to be found on Facebook than watching a single TV network. The opposite is true for anyone over 35 (still young, yes). A couple of other points: those numbers suggest that half of Americans aged 55 and older use Facebook, a figure that seems fairly high compared to recent Pew estimates that put social networking adoption (any site) at 52% for 50-64-year-olds and 32% for the 65+ group, with those percentages among internet users, not the population at large. Then again, Facebook probably has a good idea of how many people are using its site…

How Does Reach Overlap?

Given both media’s tremendous reach, there is naturally plenty of overlap between Facebook and TV, particularly among younger crowds - many of whom are using social networks while watching TV. To tackle the question of how social and TV overlap, the researchers looked at incremental reach (the “marginal, extended reach” or “the portion of the audience reached only on the digital platform”) and cross-media reach (“the portion of the audience for whom [a] campaign’s message [would be] reinforced via impressions being viewed both online and on TV”). In this analysis, Facebook reach is limited to PC use.

Although the study goes into more detail about various day-parts and audiences, some of the highlights are:

  • Duplicate reach among 18-24-year-olds almost doubles during primetime hours, from roughly 13% during the daytime hours to about 25% (1 in 4 18-24-year-olds are going on Facebook from a PC while watching a given TV network during primetime);
  • Facebook-only reach and network-only reach among 18-24-year-olds decreases from daytime to primetime, meaning that young people are more likely to be found either watching TV or using Facebook from a PC during daytime hours (loosely translated, tongue-in-cheek, as some young people having jobs and some not);
  • Duplicate reach among 25-34-year-olds increases dramatically from 14-18% during the day to 31-36% during primetime (in other words, about 1 in 3 25-34-year-olds are going on Facebook from their computers during primetime while watching any given TV network); and
  • Network-only reach more than doubles among 25-34-year-olds during primetime (from ~10% to ~24%), as Facebook-only reach more than halves (~40% to ~18%), meaning that 25-34-year-olds prefer going on Facebook from their computers during the day by a wide margin, and on TV networks at night, by a smaller margin.

In looking at a case study of how a CPG advertiser might allocate funds optimally to reach 18-34-year-old women (again, optimal reach is the only endgame here), Nielsen found a 5% budget shift to online media from TV-network-only increased reach from a 66% baseline to 76% when including Facebook in the online allocation. TV’s reach declines a bit, but not dramatically, as increasing portions of its budget are allocated to online (without incremental cost), while duplicate reach rises.

According to Nielsen, this demonstrates “how a brand advertising on TV can maintain the same overall budget, reallocate a portion of spend into digital media, increase their reach among the intended audience, and create an opportunity to reinforce the messaging with cross-media reach across channels.”

Given that the study ignores resonance and reaction, the question becomes, is that an effective re-allocation?


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