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The Less-Discussed Data Points of TV’s New Reality

Betsy Rella, VP, Research and Data, New York Interconnect
Betsy Rella, VP, Research and Data, New York Interconnect (Image credit: New York Interconnect)

When the pandemic hit, people started staying home and turning on their TVs, even more than usual. What followed was a flurry of headlines heralding the accelerated surge in streaming behaviors, particularly among streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and others. But those stories only told part of the story—and perhaps not even the most interesting part. As media plans pivot, here are a few less-discussed insights into new viewing patterns that should be considered as budgets are allocated. 

The State of Live TV 

When advertisers hear about surges in streaming viewership, it’s typically viewed as being at the expense of live TV viewership. But in fact, the rise in streaming is happening on top of live TV, rather than in place of it. In fact, in the pandemic, live TV viewership surged along with the rest of viewing habits, driven primarily by a rise in news content consumption. 

Indeed, live TV is still alive and well, according to recent total U.S. data from the MRI-Simmons Cord Evolution study. In fact, 44.2 percent of time spent watching ad-supported TV shows in an average week is still being spent watching content live on a TV set, while 39.1 percent of time is spent with streaming content, 8.7 percent is spent with DVR content on TV, and another 8 percent is spent with video on demand (VOD).

It’s no surprise, of course, that consumers are also engaging with content on a variety of other platforms and devices. Although the highest percentage of time spent in an average week (44.7 percent) is still being spent viewing on TV sets via TV services (cable, satellite, fiber-optic and over-the-air antenna), internet-connected TVs (12.6 percent) and streaming set-top boxes and sticks (12.2 percent) continue to gain traction. Smaller devices, including laptops, smartphones, video game consoles, tablets and others, account for the rest of today's viewing time. Taken together, these shifts indicate how important it is for today’s advertisers to be thinking multi-screen, while still retaining a foundational presence in the live TV space as it continues to account for such a significant portion of time spent. 

Most Viewing Is Ad-Supported

Due to the high-profile nature and notable growth of subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services like Netflix and Disney+, another common media narrative—and thus, concern among advertisers—has been the potential loss of inventory opportunities thanks to ad-averse, subscription-obsessed TV viewers. However, recent data would suggest that such concerns are unfounded. 

Currently, the amount of time that consumers are spending with cable TV networks and apps exceeds that spent with SVOD, broadcast and free streaming services. While consumers report spending, on average, 27.6 percent of their time with subscription streaming services and apps such as Hulu, Netflix, Peacock and others, they’re spending even more time each week (33.1 percent) with traditional cable TV networks, live or time-shifted, such as A&E, Bravo, E! and cable network apps. 

Traditional broadcast TV networks, live or time-shifted, such as ABC and CBS, and their streaming apps account for 27.6 percent of consumer viewing time. By comparison, about 11.7 percent of viewing time is going to free streaming services like Pluto TV, YouTube and Tubi. 

In short, advertisers aren’t lacking for opportunities to connect with their audiences on ad-supported TV and video platforms. The main challenge, rather, is finding efficient ways to buy audiences across these platforms and channels. 

Cord Stacking, Not Cord Cutting

Finally, despite regular discussion of the rise in cord-cutting behavior among consumers, the data shows us that the reality is a bit more complicated than that. Most consumers right now are not cord-cutting, but rather cord-stacking by layering streaming services and apps on top of their paid, corded TV subscriptions. A big part of this has to do with retaining access to sports and live news services that aren’t as readily available in streaming environments. 

Of course, there are notable distinctions according to age and lifestyle. While the majority (53 percent) of consumers aged 35-54 have both pay TV and streaming services, the 18-34 crowd leads the way in streaming content and is most likely to have severed their ties with paid TV subscriptions. Interestingly, adults aged 18-34 with children are more likely than their childless peers to have cut the cord entirely (23 percent vs. 16 percent respectively), which may be the result of younger adults without children never having paid for TV service to begin with. 

Without a doubt, the pandemic has reshaped the reality of TV viewing for the future. As a result, today’s brands and agencies must reassess what they know about the modern video advertising landscape as it relates to efficiently reaching their audiences at scale. In doing so, they need to look beyond the latest headlines and maintain a higher-level perspective on viewing behaviors as they continue to evolve, in pandemic and non-pandemic times alike. 

New York Interconnect (NYI) is a joint venture among Altice USA, Charter Communications, and Comcast that connects brands to over 20 million consumers in the nation’s No. 1 market.