It’s a popular question among online video reporters and enthusiasts. In the age of web video, what time is prime time?

The answer’s changed in the past four three or four years. First, it was lunchtime. Web series and viral videos offered America’s white collar workforce snack-sized bites of entertainment to go along with the meal they ate at their desks. Sure, a lot of people still watch web shows while they’re on the clock at work, but when more producers of premium content started distributing their work online, and sites like Hulu became go-to destinations for consuming that premium content, more and more online entertainment consumers began tuning in at home at the end of the day.

The shift was first cited by Jessica Vascellaro at the Wall Street Journal in June of 2010. At that time, showed a shift in its peak viewing hours to 8PM to 11PM across US time zones. New media studio Revision3‘s prime-time views topped its lunchtime views by 20%. And’s evening viewing was up 18% in the past eight months, while its daytime viewing increase only 5% during the same period. Nielsen provided the big “A-ha!” numbers for story, stating online video viewing was up 14% in the past year, to 62.4 million viewers between the hours of 8PM and 11PM, while 12PM to 2PM viewership stayed relatively steady at 45.4 million.

Prime time online video viewing has only grown more popular since Vascellaro published her story. A new study from Yahoo shows in the past two years online video viewing between the hours of 6PM and 9PM is up 30%, while daytime online video viewing is down a few percentage points. Sharing of online videos has also decreased (from 35% to 26% of online video viewers engaging in the practice). Hulu and Netflix and premium content are the reasons why.

More people are watching more premium TV shows and movies from online destinations and distributors. They’re watching that premium content online during the times of the day when they’re most comfortable and familiar with watching premium content – 6PM to 9PM. And as online video viewing becomes more mainstream, so does the online video consumer. College kids and the country’s post-collegiate office workforce aren’t the only ones consuming video on the internet anymore. Their parents are watching, too, but they’re not as internet savvy as their kids and therefore less likely to share what they’re watching through social media.

Another interesting takeaway from Yahoo’s report is quality of the online video content has a direct effect on the efficacy of the online video advertising. Respondents to Yahoo’s survey had higher advertiser recall and found online video ads less annoying, less intrusive, and more relevant when they were shown during content “professionally made” as opposed to content made by average Joes.

Click here to check out the report.

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