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Surprise! Cable-cutters still watch television shows

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Just because consumers cancel their cable service, they don't stop watching broadcast and cable television programs. This should come as a surprise to no one, since a major consideration for most people who cut the cable is whether they can still see their favorite shows elsewhere. But apparently, it's news to Experian Marketing Services, who released their latest survey results on the subject to Advertising Age May 8.

The survey shows which programs cable-cutters watch and where they watch them. But because of its literally mindless methodology – digital Big Data techniques – the results are less than dispositive.

Cooking the books?

For example, Experian counted viewership of only shows that people who have broadband but not cable, satellite or online website subscriptions can watch. This right away eliminates runaway online-only hits like the "House of Cards" remake, which requires a Netflix subscription. It also gave short clips of shows the same weight as complete programs. This inflated viewership numbers and rankings for shows such as "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Some 4 million people subscribe to the YouTube channel where its clips are posted, and its "Worst Twerk Fail Ever" clip got more than 19 million views alone.

"If it's shareable or consumable in short clips, I think it's going to appeal to the cord-cutter audience because they're hungrier for video here and there," said Experian senior analyst John Fetto, in justification of the practice. He had nothing to say about the decision to ignore online-only shows, especially in view of the fact that households with Hulu accounts are 138 percent more likely to be cable-cutters and Netflix households 181 percent more likely, and both websites combined account for more than half of America's total web traffic.

With those caveats in mind, here's what cable-cutters watch and where they watch it.

What they watch

Public television's broadcast ratings may be anemic, but "Nova" was cable-cutters' most watched program, with 75 percent having viewed it. Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" was second, with about 73 percent. Next were ABC's Jimmy Kimmel (about 45 percent, inflated by all those YouTube clips), "Once Upon a Time" (28 percent) and "Wipeout" (27 percent).

Rounding out the top ten were "The Simpsons" (Fox, 26 percent), "Antiques Roadshow" (PBS, 20 percent), "Modern Family" (ABC, 15 percent), and "Bones" (Fox, 14 percent).

Where they watch it

Ironically, there's a big disparity between which networks' shows cable-cutters watch online and which websites they visit to watch them

NBC, none of whose shows made the most watched top ten, owns the most visited television website, which Experian says 58 percent of cable-cutting viewers visit. And that's not counting NBC's fourth-place Today Show, which has its own website and 46 percent of online viewers.

While PBS has some of the most watched shows, it's Fox News (second place with just over 51 percent) where cable-cutting viewers go for their news coverage, followed by ESPN for sports (51 percent), the Today Show, Bing Video (about 41 percent), Netflix (38 percent), the Food Network and the Weather Channel (35 percent each), Yahoo Movies (32 percent), and YouTube (31 percent).

ESPN's high viewership is something of a surprise, since professional sports leagues' broadcast television deals tend to keep many games from being streamed online. That's why "very interested" sports fans are less likely to cut the cable. NBA fans are 40 percent less likely, followed by NFL fans (23 percent less likely), college football fans (21 percent) and Major League Baseball fans (20 percent).

Buy twice

So if you're a television advertiser, and you don't want to miss reaching a growing segment of your target audience, you'll need to think seriously about buying twice – once on broadcast channels (that are also carried on cable) and again on network websites and Hulu, which cable-cutters watch and which carry separate advertising.

That's the bad news. The good news is that if you do, your air time will cost less and, thanks to a shortage of advertisers, your spots will keep running over and over and over again within the same program.

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