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With an increasing number of network television shows available for viewing online, more than 20% of TV viewers watch some amount of primetime programming online, according to a new study by Integrated Media Measurement Inc. (IMMI).

The largest segment of online TV viewers are white, affluent, well-educated, working women age 25-44, the study found.

Among online viewers, 50% are watching programming as it becomes available and appear to be beginning to use the computer as a substitute for the television set, IMMI said.

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The other 50% are using the web as a tool to watch past programming they have missed:

  • Fill-in viewing: Either they are filling in an episode online when they had already seen the other episodes around it on TV (18.7%).
  • Catch-up viewing: Or they are catching up on an episode online after seeing the subsequent episodes on TV (31.3%).

Moreover, non-DVR owners are adopting the computer for time-shifting rather than buying a DVR, the study suggests. In some cases, online viewing of a particular program was higher than DVR viewing of that program, IMMI found. In general, online viewers are less likely to use a DVR:

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“This is the first study to show there are a significant amount of people watching primetime shows online who are not watching some portion of those shows on television,” said Amanda Welsh, head of research for IMMI.

“Everyone’s been talking about the internet becoming a substitute for television; however this is the first single-source passive data to show that the migration from one platform to another is actually occurring – and it’s happening fast.”

About the data: The Online Viewership study (pdf) was implemented through a research panel built by IMMI that mirrors US Census results for fundamental demographics in key markets. IMMI provides thousands of panel members in key markets with a mobile phone, asking them to carry it with them wherever they go. The mobile phone is equipped with a technology that creates digital signatures of all the audio media (television, radio and movies) to which it has been exposed. IMMI can determine viewing audiences, as well as certain types of consumer behavior based on a timeline of when the media was viewed or heard.

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