State of Specialty: queen of non-appointment TV

Study shows 45% of Canadians watching more specialty; cited as first stop when viewers don't know what to watch

The State of Specialty is based on 1,174 telephone interviews with Canadians, randomly selected from those in the general population who own televisions, and drawn proportionately from Canada’s ‘top 10′ urban markets (Halifax, Anglophone Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, London, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver).

Interviews were completed between January 14 and 30, 2004. The margin of error on the sample of 1,174 is + 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Specialty TV: It’s interesting, it’s entertaining, and Canadians are watching a lot more of it – that according to a new study of Canadian specialty channels conducted by The Strategic Counsel of Toronto.

Based on the results of almost 1,200 phone interviews made in January, the State of Specialty report was undertaken on behalf of Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting and sponsored by Strategy.

Chris Kelly, president of The Strategic Counsel, says the research demonstrates a significant shift in behavior on the part of television viewers. Now that they can tailor their viewing to specific areas of interest, viewers are looking for something substantially different than they were in the years prior to the existence of specialty services.

Kelly says Canadians still watch 20 to 21 hours of television a week, but what they are watching has changed. Specifically, 45% of specialty-viewing respondents indicated they’re watching more specialty TV than they did two or three years ago, and that the amount of television time they now devote to specialty is slightly more than that given over to conventional (52% of viewing time, versus 48%).

The report finds that viewer preference for specialty channels runs at 47% overall, versus 31% for conventional. Viewers responded that they like the focused nature of specialty programming, and 41% say their specialty viewing has increased because of ‘better shows and quality programming.’

Overall, 53% reported a perception that specialty has better programming, versus 28% for the conventionals. Only 11% of respondents said they saw no difference between the two.

Although most have worked with those suppositions, the report offers hard numbers to an industry that runs on data. Observes David Shiffman, VP and SMG Insights director for Toronto-based Starcom Mediavest Group, the report helps support assertions that specialty has strong value as a good ad environment because it is relevant and connects with people.

Shiffman notes that the numbers suggest ‘a lot of positives in terms of specialty and its connection with people. It totally fits with what we’d expect and with our own qualitative work.’

He adds, ‘In an industry where far too many media vendors don’t do a hell of a lot of research, I think it’s a great initiative. It also helps us to position specialty as a stronger opportunity. Some of our clients remain in the camp of ‘specialty is just a cost reducer, so we don’t want to put money there.”

The State of Specialty also illustrates changes in how the Canadian television audience channel surfs, says The Strategic Counsel’s Kelly.

‘We know [viewers] still have appointments for the big network programs,’ says Kelly. ‘No one is suggesting they’re not watching Friends or the reality programming that is so ubiquitous these days. But…if they don’t have a specific program they’re going to watch…large numbers say they’re going to specialty services first because they have a better [chance] of finding something they want to watch.’

According to the study, today’s viewers regularly browse a small cluster of specialty channels that they know reflects their interests. Specifically, 54% of those asked say they scan one or a few specialties first when looking for something to watch.

The survey also asked respondents if they had just one specialty channel they consider to be their favorite. Twenty different channels were named, with Discovery leading the pack, followed by HGTV, TSN, History Television, TMN, and Space.

Tim Wilson, Toronto-based VP research at Mediacom Group Services, says that, in his opinion, the study was conducted fairly, but he was surprised to see Discovery outrank TSN as favourite specialty channel – even against men – since that result hasn’t occurred in any other research he’s seen.

Wilson adds that he would like to see some questions on commercial viewing behaviour added to the next wave of the study, to further explore the differences between what specialties and conventional offer in terms of an advertising environment.