Australians are apparently spending more time watching conventional television than they did a year ago and are also using internet-connected devices to complement their viewing of television and other video. That is the upbeat conclusion of the television measurement organisations in Australia. Yet analysis of the same figures by informitv suggests there has been a significant reduction in viewing  in just a year, particularly among younger viewers, with those aged 25-34 watching 4 hours 19 minutes less television a month. The apparent decline over a decade is even more dramatic, only partly compensated by an increase in online viewing across computers, phones and tablets.

An estimated 40% of Australian homes now have a tablet, while 68% of Australians aged over 16 now own a smartphone.

Amid the steady adoption of new technologies, Australians of all ages use their traditional television sets for the overwhelming majority of time they spend watching television and other video programmes. The Australian Multi-screen Report published by OzTAM and Nielsen suggests that people are using additional screens to complement, rather than replace, the time they spend watching traditional television.

“Even with extensive new screen and platform options, Australians are viewing as much broadcast television as they have in years,” said the chief executive of OzTAM, Doug Peiffer.

In the last quarter of 2013, Australians watched an average of 92 hours and 39 minutes of broadcast television each month on their home television, a rise of 1 hour and 34 minutes since Q4 2012.

Watching online video on a tablet increased from 50 minutes a month to 1 hour 47 minutes, while watching online video on a mobile phone rose from 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 56 minutes.

However, teens watched 2 hours and 26 minutes a month on a tablet and 8 hours and 48 minutes on a mobile. The 18-24 age group, being the lowest viewers of television, also watched 12 hours 23 minutes a month on a computer, 4 hours 9 minutes on a mobile and 3 hours 30 minutes on a tablet.

Now, television viewing is seasonal and can be expected to be lower in the fourth quarter, which is summer in Australia.

So we did a little more analysis, and looked at figures for the Australian Multi-screen Report over the two calendar years, averaging the four quarters to give an annual total for each year.

What we discover is that overall television viewing in Australian homes actually fell by 2 hours 24 minutes a month between 2012 and 2013. Furthermore, it fell for each age group. Among teens it fell by 5 hours and 51 minutes, while the 18-24 group watched 3 hours 45 minutes a month less, and those aged 25-34 watched 4 hours 19 minutes a month less television. Even those aged over 65 watched over two hours less television a month in 2013 than in 2012.

In percentage terms, it amounts to a 2.5% drop in television viewing time across the board, but it is over a 10% drop among teens, over 7% among the 18-24 group, and over 5% among those aged 25-34. By any analysis that represents a significant decline in traditional television viewing among younger viewers in only a year.

Australian Television Viewing - Monthly viewing minutes by age group - 2012-2013. Source: OzTAM, Regional TAM, Nielsen / informitv analysis

We then checked how much this age group was watching a decade previously, before these alternative online viewing options were available.

According to the OzTAM 2004 Ratings Snapshot, teens watched 68 hours and 26 minutes a month in 2004, while those aged 18-24 watched 63 hours 52 minutes a month.

The 5-12 age group appear to watch an hour and a half more television a month than in 2004, perhaps as a result of more viewing options.

However, there is a reduction of around 20 hours a month, or about 5 hours a week, among viewers aged 13 to 55. Teens appear to watch 20 hours 4 minutes less television a month, while those aged 18-24 watched 19 hours 35 minutes less and those aged 25,54 watched 20 hours 26 minutes less television a month in 2013 than in 2004.

While overall television viewing remains almost unchanged, at an average of over 94 hours a month, this disguises a significant demographic shift.

Among the 13-24 age group, television viewing minutes have fallen by 29%, and among those aged 25-54 viewing has fallen by 20% in less than a decade.

Now, according to the television measurement organisations, the total video viewing on computers, mobile phones and tablets adds up to an average 9 hours and 35 minutes a month of viewing, which sounds positive. That is all video viewing, not necessarily programmes that otherwise aired on television.

That volume of online video viewing is heavily skewed by younger viewers. It includes 17 hours 41 minutes among teens, 21 hours and 2 minutes among those aged 18-24, and 15 hours among those 25-34.

That is generally still less than the apparent reduction in television viewing over a decade among these groups.

That implies these new forms of viewing are substitutional, rather than additive, contrary to repeated industry claims. Online viewing is displacing traditional television.

Not only that, but at least some of that online video viewing is directly competitive to traditional television, as it includes non-broadcast programming.

The chief executive of OzTAM responded to our request for comment, saying: “The Q4 2013 report, as you’ve noted, does clearly show that viewing among younger Australians dropped year-on-year.” Doug Peiffer continued: “Australians as a whole still watch a little over 3 hours of TV in-home per day, about the same as they did five years ago. Given the huge increase in the number of channels available to Australians and the choice of devices on which to view, in-home TV viewing is remarkably stable.”

However, there is no room for complacency. A 10% drop in television viewing among teens in a year is significant. These are the viewers of tomorrow. Although they will no doubt grow up and behave more like their parents than they might believe, their multiscreen viewing habits will be hard to shift.

Australian broadcasters are responding. Freeview Australia is about to launch a new platform based on HbbTV, developed by Massive Interactive, which will combine broadcast and broadband programming through an integrated guide on new FreeviewPlus compatible displays and devices.

That will help to promote the currently disparate online video offerings of the various broadcasters, showcasing shows across all the free-to-air networks.

Many pay-TV operators already offer multiscreen services to cater for customers across different devices and displays, like Foxtel Go, available to subscribers on computers, smartphones and tablets.

The latest informitv Multiscreen Index shows that 60% of pay-TV services in the Index now deliver to multiple screens other than a traditional television.

The Australian Multi-screen Report Quarter 4 2013 is published by OzTAM, Regional TAM and Nielsen and is available from the OzTAM web site. Offering an overview of multiscreen services worldwide, the informitv Multiscreen Index tracks 100 leading pay-TV services worldwide and is available from the informitv web site.