by Joe Mandese (from Mediapost’s Online Media Daily)

The amount of time Americans spend watching online video is vastly overstated, according to the findings of some highly regarded research made public Tuesday. The disclosure, which is likely one of the more controversial findings being mined from an ambitious piece of academic research that actually observed how people spend their time consuming media, was made during one of a series of so-called “collaborative alliance” meetings hosted by Havas media shop MPG for the advertising and media industry in New York.

“This may be the first study to document the dramatic overstatement of online video and mobile video,” said Jim Spaeth, one of the founders of Sequent Partners, which collaborated with Ball State University’s Center for Media Design on the Video Consumer Mapping Study on behalf of the Nielsen-funded Council for Research Excellence. The project, which cost $3.5 million to field, directly observed how people spent their day using media, found that while growing rapidly, online video and mobile video still account for a small fraction of the amount of time Americans spend watching all forms of video content, including live TV programming, time-shifted television, DVDs, video games, etc.

The researchers previously disclosed findings showing that traditional “live” television still accounts for more than two-thirds of the time Americans spend watching video content each day, and that online video represents less than 1%. The new findings unveiled Tuesday indicate that even the relatively small amount of time Americans spend watching online video has been, on average, grossly overstated by conventional forms of media research and audience measurement.

Conversely, Sequent’s Spaeth said traditional TV viewing has been “pretty drastically under-reported” by research that asks people how they consume video. The reason why, he said, is that research based on how people perceive they consume media isn’t nearly as accurate as research that actually observes who they use it.

The ad industry historically has known about such “halo effects” and the fact that it is considered socially unpopular for people to report that they watch as much TV as they actually do. On the other hand, Spaeth said people tend to over-report their online and mobile video consumption, because “it is new and cool.”

Spaeth, and Mike Bloxham, director of insight at Ball State’s Center for Media Design, are scheduled to reveal more previously unreleased details about online video from the study during a presentation and panel discussion at the upcoming OMMA Video conference June 16th in New York.

During MPG’s meeting on Tuesday, Spaeth revealed other new insights from the study that he claimed actually “measure the future” of how people will consume video content. That aspect of the study relied on a method called “media acceleration,” in which consumers were given substantial discounts – upwards of 50% – off the price of purchasing new consumer electronics equipment for their homes, and their media consumption patterns were observed before and after the new technologies were in place.

Spaeth said the No. 1 finding from that part of the study was that almost everyone who participated purchased a high-definition TV set – either their first, or a second one for their home – and that the adoption of HDTV generally led to greater usage of television initially, but that over time, that increased usage began to subside.

“There is an early indication that this may be a temporary effect,” Spaeth said of HDTV’s stimulus effect. But at least in the short run, he said, “Live TV viewing accelerated by more than twice as much among those people who acquired and HDTV.”

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