A research report from Microsoft, entitled Europe Logs On, suggests that internet consumption will overtake television viewing by the middle of 2010. This was widely reported without further reflection, but frankly informitv finds it difficult to believe. In fact, the figures on which the forecast is based demand closer examination.

In the foreword to the report, John Mangelaars, the vice president for consumer and online for Microsoft Europe, says “we predict that Europe will reach a new milestone next summer when the internet surpasses traditional TV as the most consumed form of media”.

The report says that in 2008 Europeans used the web on average 8.9 hours a week, or 1.5 days a month, up 27% from 2004, according its source, a Forrester Research report A Deep Dive into European’s Online Behaviour published last June, based on a survey of over 22,000 European adults.

“If current growth trends continue, the internet will overtake TV as the most consumed form of media for the first time in June 2010,” states the Microsoft report. “Microsoft projections estimate that Internet consumption in 2010 will average 14.2 hours per week, or over 2.5 days a month — compared to 11.5 hours a week, or 2 days a month, for TV.”

Yet anyone with any experience in media, or even based on their own experience, probably recognises that on average we spend more than a day a week watching television, and generally more than that in the winter.

In the UK, last year all individuals over the age of 4 watched an average of 22.5 hours a week in the summer and over 30 hours a week at Christmas, according to BARB research.

Nevertheless, the conclusion that Microsoft draws from the assumption that online usage will overtake television within a couple of years is that: “This will end the need to watch TV in real-time as we shift to seamless PC and TV experiences. Long form video content and IPTV will become the norm on a TV that is really a PC. Consumers will download movies and TV shows and only access ‘live’ TV for big news and sports events.”

While informitv would agree that this is a general long-term trend, the reality is that changes in television viewing behaviour have often been overestimated.

The main determinant of television viewing is not the delivery technology but the availability to view, the programming available and the purposes it fulfills, which are socially driven factors that tend to change rather more slowly than technologists might imagine.