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Market Researchers and Online Video: Blind Men and the Elephant

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Recently, The Nielsen Company reported that 143.9 million unique viewers in the U.S. had streamed online video in January 2011. A few days later, comScore Video Metrix reported that 171.2 million unique viewers in the U.S. had watched online video content that month.

As my mother would say, the difference between these two numbers is "bigger than a breadbox."

But wait, there's more.

According to Nielsen, YouTube was the top online video brand with 112.8 million unique viewers in January. Facebook was #2 with 32.3 million, VEVO was #3 with 32.2 million, Yahoo! was #4 with 25.5 million, MSN/Windows Live/Bing was #5 with 17.3 million, Hulu was #6 with 11.9 million, AOL Media Network was #8 with 9.2 million, and Fox Interactive was #9 with 7.6 million.

But according to comScore, Google Sites, driven primarily by video viewing at YouTube.com, ranked as the top online video content property in January with 144.1 million unique viewers. VEVO was #2 with 51.0 million, Yahoo Sites was #3 with 48.7 million, AOL, Inc. was #5 with 44.5 million, Facebook was #6 with 42.1 million, Microsoft Sites were #7 with 38.1 million, Fox Interactive was #9 with 25.4 million, and Hulu was #10 with 25.0 million.

Oh, and let's not even talk about TheCollegeHumor Network and Netflix, which are #7 and #10 on the Nielson list, or Viacom Digital and Turner Digital, which are #4 and #8 on the comScore list.

Now, I understand that these two market research firms have different methodologies and different samples, but why does it appear that they are comparing apples and oranges?

It gets worse.

According to Experian Hitwise, YouTube gets 86.2% of visits to 77 video sites in the U.S., Hulu gets 3.6%, and Bing Videos gets 2.0%. But according to Compete, YouTube.com had 111.8 million unique visitors in January, Hulu.com had 13.8 million, and VEVO.com had 1.7 million. Yep, now we're comparing apples, oranges pears and cucumbers.

According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 69% of online adults had used the internet to watch or download video as of June 3, 2010. And according to eMarketer, 68.2% of U.S. internet users, or 158.1 million people, will be watching video online at least once a month in 2011. But according to comScore, 83.5% of the U.S. Internet audience has viewed online video.

So, what's a marketer to do?

It's worth reading the 19th Century poem by John Godfrey Sax, "The Blind Men and the Elephant."

One blind man feels the tusk and says, "An elephant is very like a spear." Another bland man seizes the tail and says, "The elephant is very like a rope." And the four other blind men touch the elephant's side, trunk, knee, and ear and conclude, respectively, that it is a "wall", "snake", "tree", and "fan".

blind men and the elephant.gif

But the whole elephant is much more than just one of these things. And the online video market is much more than any one of the data points mentioned above.

It's not that any market research firm's data is bad. It's that they are all getting their arms around different things.

We do know that the online video market is BIG. We also know that it is GROWING. We can also see that YouTube is the CENTER, but not the CIRCUMFERENCE of the online video market. It's also worth noting that there is one market for video CONTENT -- which can be watched on media websites as well as on video sites -- and another market for video ADS -- which can be distributed via video ad networks as well as seen before, during, after, over, or next to video content.

In short, marketers need to touch all the parts of the elephant if they are going to see all the opportunities presented by online video.


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