Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: ‘Cord Cutters’ Survey Makes Wrong Point
July 12, 2013 | 9:38 am
By Joanna Cabot
GigaOM has a report about a comScore survey showing that 16 percent of Canadians “stream all of their TV from on-line sources.” The survey also has an additional 35 percent of Canadians watching both traditional television and a further 35 percent only watching traditional television.
Janko Roetggers correctly points out some food-for-thought in the results here: that Google, owner of YouTube, commissioned the survey, and that bandwith caps, which are prevalent in Canada, might be playing a factor in what Canadians watch on-line. But it also misses the point that if you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get a full picture of the data.
Consider this question: How many of those cord-cutters no longer watch television at all?
Too often, these surveys skew their own data by assuming you’ve replaced one thing with an equal thing. When the Beloved and I first cut the cable, we did replace it with watching shows on-line. But gradually, our habits shifted. We became simply less interested in television as a hobby at all. It was annoying to remember who aired which show, and what day it went on-line.
It was easier to just watch a DVD—or, yes, to turn on Netflix and watch on our own schedule, but more often those viewings are movies, not television shows. It wasn’t about replacing ‘this’ form of television with ‘that’ form of television. It was about replacing television with something else entirely. For me, it was more reading time (and OK, more aimless ‘net browsing), and for him it was working out at the gym (and OK, more video game time). The rare time we do find ourselves with access to cable these days, we are invariably horrified by what’s on and turn it off quickly.
I’ve seen the same argument with books. How many articles have I seen where a decrease in ‘sales’ is linked to an increase in piracy, because clearly, those are the only two options? How about option C, going to the library? Or option D, buying the indie books Big Pub isn’t really tracking? Or option D, returning to the classics, which I can get for free? Who says Big Pub is putting out such compelling stuff these days anyway?
I just read a mystery by a big-name author about a missing child where, at page 143 of 200, the detectives were lamenting their lack of leads, and lo and behind, the kidnapper sends them a letter out of the blue, confessing his identity, revealing his location and offering to drop off the child somewhere they could pick it up. This lazy writing is the epic stuff we’re supposed to be paying $14 for?
My dad always said you could use statistics to tell any tale you want. Yes, many people are getting rid of cable. But maybe it’s because cable just isn’t what they want right now. Similarly, maybe sales are declining for publishers because people are just finding other things to read?