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Apple TV usage is surging -- at the expense of Mac

People are firing up Apple's streaming-media box more than Roku to watch traditional TV via the Internet, though the company paying the biggest price for that growth may be Apple itself, based on Adobe data.

Apple TV has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of an explosion in online video. Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple TV appears to be the hobby people keep coming back to.

The computer maker's streaming-media box saw its share of TV Everywhere viewings doubled at the beginning of this year from the end of last, outstripping main rival Roku, according to a report from Adobe.

That may not be a home run for Apple: It appears much of the growth is people swapping in their Apple TV for the online video they previously watched on desktops and laptops.

"If you look at the Mac access, it's dropping," said Tamara Gaffney, a principal analyst for Adobe Digital Index and the lead analyst on the latest report. "For Apple, they're transitioning the lover of their computers into a lover of the Apple TV device."

Online video is exploding, as more people watch on-the-go from mobile devices and more programmers put in-demand content on the Web. That's created a boon for makers of so called "over-the-top" boxes like Apple TV, which hook up to televisions to play online video on the living room's big screen. But for Apple, this rapid growth could have hidden dangers: It means demand is soaring for one of its lowest priced products at the expense of some of its priciest, and it means the services on streaming-media boxes grow in importance compared with the hardware.

Adobe examined consumer video viewing and browsing behavior from the first quarter of last year through the first quarter of 2015. The data was aggregated from more than 500 billion visits, more than 200 billion online video starts and 2.8 billion TV Everywhere authentications for premium video content.

TV Everywhere is the traditional TV industry's gateway system for putting their shows online -- if you've ever been asked to enter your cable or satellite service password before viewing a show or a movie, that's a TV Everywhere authentication.

Adobe found that Apple TV represented 10 percent of TV Everywhere authentications in the first quarter, up from 5 percent in the final quarter of last year. That surpassed Roku, which had an 8 percent share in the latest period, up one percentage point. Gaffney said the data indicated Apple TV was a popular holiday present and noted its share may jump again once Adobe can examine data collected after Apple cut the price of the box to $69 from $99 in March.

A caveat about these standings: TV Everywhere authentications aren't the full picture of online video viewing. They don't include time spent watching free video and content delivered by subscription services like Netflix.

Other findings from Adobe's report:

  • TV Everywhere viewing has nearly quadrupled in the last year.
  • Over-the-top devices like Apple TV and Roku, and gaming consoles, such as Xbox, made the biggest leaps in TV Everywhere share growth, to 24 precent from just 6 percent a year earlier.
  • Though Thursday night has traditionally been "must-see TV" evening for advertising dollars, Wednesday nights are the most popular for TV Everywhere viewing, followed by the weekend. Friday is when the most binge watching occurs.
  • The most popular browsers for online video viewing are increasingly Google's Android and Chrome. They continue to grow more so than Apple's Safari, albeit by only a few percentage points. Overall, Google is up 18 percent and Safari is up 15 percent, at the expense of Internet Explorer and Firefox.