Nielsen reported in 2018 that Americans consume on average over 11 hours of media a day, with over four hours a day of television viewing. Several sources suggest people are watching more TV than ever during COVID-19.
The average household is putting in an extra workday’s worth of viewing each week – watching 8+ hours more per week than they were in early March, going from approximately 57 hours a week per household to 66 hours…
Since the start of COVID, these distinctions have blurred and weekdays are seeing viewing levels and trends akin to the weekend. As a matter of fact, in the past two weeks, Monday has become a more popular day to watch television than Saturday.
Explosive demand for TV content led almost 16 million people to sign up for Netflix — more than double what the company predicted before the Covid-19 outbreak. The extended time at home also has been a chance for consumers to take new apps out for a spin, including Disney+, Apple TV+, Quibi and Comcast Corp.’s Peacock. Disney+ has added 28 million subscribers since December. Meanwhile, as the recession causes consumers to tighten their budgets, pricey cable-TV bills will be on the chopping block. Already last quarter, the big four pay-TV providers saw an exodus of nearly 2 million customers, with AT&T Inc.’s DirecTV accounting for almost half of those cancellations.
The desire to save money is boosting interest in free streaming-video services, such as Pluto TV and Tubi, that are funded by advertisers. Pluto TV’s growth proved to be the biggest bright spot in ViacomCBS Inc.’s quarterly results, as the cancellation of the NCAA March Madness tournament crushed traditional network ad sales
Ever since city and state stay-at-home orders abruptly arrived with social distancing in mid-March, Denverites’ TV-viewing plus internet-connected device TV usage (as Nielsen calls it) has jumped up to 20% over comparable periods in the previous weeks.
Local TV stations also have become many viewers’ go-to source for information about the coronavirus and COVID-19, reversing a trend that saw sharp declines in local news viewership in recent years. In the top 25 markets, local news experienced a 7% viewership lift between early February and the week of March 9. Among people 25-54, the spike was more than 10%, and 20% for people aged 2-17, Nielsen reported.
In total, the biggest weekly viewing increase across the country — when compared with the same period last year — occurred the week of April 6, Nielsen data showed.
Several thoughts on this:
- This all makes sense: people are home more and television is one of the top non-work activities for Americans. Even in the age of Internet, social media, and smartphones, television is a force to be reckoned with.
- This adds up to a lot of television on a daily and cumulative basis. For those worried about its effects, when people have more time, they still turn to television.
- This is not necessarily all good news for television networks and content creators. Advertising revenues are tough to find and cord-cutting, connected to unemployment and economic uncertainty, is up.
- It will be interesting to see what happens with long-term viewing patterns. COVID-19 restrictions could last a while in some places and fear about going out in public could continue even longer. Does this mean TV viewing will be up for a while? If so, is there a way for content creators, advertisers, and others to capitalize on the opportunities? Or, imagine a public campaign that pushes other activities beyond sitting in front of a television or smartphone screen (unlikely, I admit)?