COVID Made Viewing More Live, Less Mobile: FreeWheel

(Image credit: FreeWheel)

Stuck at home for much of the first half of 2020, Americans watched video on bigger screens and consumed programming live, according to FreeWheel’s U.S. Video Marketplace Report.

Video views were up 17% in the first half, compared to the previous year and ad views rose even more, jumping 32%.

“Viewers are turning to premium video more than ever, and, when given the choice, they are choosing to watch it in a lean-back, engaged way on their television sets,” said David Dworin, head of advisory services at FreeWheel, part of Comcast. “Despite a challenging year for the media industry, the power and popularity of premium TV is as clear as ever, and we expect this trend to continue even after the pandemic is behind us.”

FreeWheel found that 73% of viewing took place via TVs hooked up to set-top boxes or devices that connected their TV to streaming services. Ad views on CTV were up 42%.  

Mobile ad views rose, but its share fell to 15%.

“Once the pandemic is behind us, we predict content consumption on mobile will increase to its usual levels, as people turn to their devices once again to keep them company while commuting, traveling, and dining out,”’ the report said.

Even as streaming increased, live viewing grew 38%, despite an absence of live sports after the March shutdown. Interest in news powered the gains in live viewing, along with the growth in free virtual channels, FreeWheel said. 

“This finding again proved that people still like the linear-like viewing experience – even on digital platforms,” FreeWheel said.

With more people at home, viewing was up 9% before noon, 14% before 6 p.m. and 12% in late afternoons. Primetime viewing rose 9%. 

During mid-show ad breaks, an average of 3.5 commercials played, up from 3.4 during the first quarter of 2019. The breaks lasted 112 second on average, compared to 96 seconds. 

FreeWheel said the industry is improving in terms of not repeating ads during programs. It found that 76% of live programming had zero ad repetitions and 88% of on-demand shows had zero repetitions. 

The figures in the Video Marketplace Report are based on aggregated and anonymized advertising data collected through the FreeWheel platform.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.