By Georg Szalai
NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - The Pay TV industry has heatedly debated this fall whether consumers are dropping their cable or other TV subscriptions to watch more TV content online. A new study by Nielsen, commissioned by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, argues that most people who watch at least some content from the Web on their TV sets are "cord keepers" rather than "cord cutters."
The study, called "Life is a Stream," surveyed 769 people 18-49, and used eight focus groups to explore the viewing habits of consumers who watch at least some TV shows and movies from the Internet on their TV sets. That group makes up about 11 percent of the U.S. population, according to the study's authors.
One key finding of the survey, which will be unveiled this week: 84 percent of such viewers reported that they are watching the same amount, or more, regularly scheduled TV since they started streaming or downloading content to watch on their TV set. Importantly for TV distributors, 92 percent of these entertainment enthusiasts subscribe to a pay TV service, with only 3 percent reporting plans to give up their subscription.
Plus, more than half -- 53 percent -- said they have discovered shows by viewing them via the Internet first and then sought them out on regularly scheduled TV.
"We've learned that new technologies are providing additional opportunities for viewers to access TV shows and movies, at their convenience," CTAM president and CEO Char Beales said. "But it's supplementing viewing of regularly scheduled TV, not replacing it."
Todd Cunningham, senior vice president of strategic insights and research at Viacom's MTV Networks, one of the volunteer leaders overseeing the study, said: "These consumers are feeding their insatiable entertainment appetites by viewing more and more content from the Internet on their TV sets, and they're often viewing shows they might have otherwise missed."
Cunningham told The Hollywood Reporter that for a content company like his, "it is encouraging that TV viewing is still culturally important." Plus, he was excited about the opportunity to promote content in new ways by allowing consumers to discover shows online and then watch as "these people are coming back to TV -- either to catch shows live or on their DVR."
The cord-cutting debate also saw two other contributions late last week.
Research firm Harris Interactive found in an online poll of 3,084 U.S. adults age 18 and older, conducted in mid-October, that 22 percent of respondents said they eliminated or downgraded their pay TV service (a practice called "shaving") during the past six months, with another 21 percent saying they have considered doing so.
Meanwhile, Evercore Partners in a research note said that "aspirational cord-cutters are talking the talk but not walking the walk."
At GigaOm's NewTeeVeeLive conference in San Francisco, which Evercore said was arguably "the epicenter for cord cutting activism" last week, the audience of 250 people was asked to raise a hand if they are a cord cutters, and "less than 10 hands (or 4 percent) were raised. "
Nielsen conducted its study for CTAM in July and August. It used an online panel and included people ages 18-49 who watch at least five hours of TV per week.
All respondents had broadband connections and had watched full-length TV shows or movies from the Internet on the TV set at least once in the prior month via computers, iPad, mobile phone, a video game system, Internet-enabled HD TV, an Internet enabled Blu-ray player or other Internet-enabled device. The companies said the study has a margin of error of 2 percent.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant.)