Daytime Is Streaming Time: TV Viewing Habits In The Time Of COVID-19

Coronavirus shelter-in-place orders have been in place for less than a month nationally, but consumer media habits are already massively changing.

Streaming is the clear winner of social distancing. From March 9 to March 16, total streaming time grew to 156.1 billion minutes per day in the United States, compared to 127.6 billion minutes during the last week of February, per Nielsen. In March, streaming accounted for 23% of consumer TV viewing time, up from 21% in February and 14% a year ago.

Meanwhile, live TV viewing grew between 1% and 3% during the last week of March across all demos, while streaming increased up to 8% during the same time period. NBCU saw an 80% spike in viewership across its digital assets in March compared to a 20% increase in linear TV viewing.

Homebound people are streaming more TV during the daytime. Streaming between 10 am to 5 pm grew 39% during the week of March 17 to 23, compared to the previous week, Conviva found. Meanwhile, prime-time viewing declined by as much as 5% between 8 pm and 11 pm.

“Prime time is starting nine hours earlier than normal,” said Conviva CEO Bill Demas. “Even if people are working from home and kids are distance-learning, streaming accelerates at 10 am and goes throughout the day.”

In APAC, where people are slowly getting back to work, streaming hours decreased 10% between March 17 and 23, according to Conviva. That dip offers a preview of what may happen in other regions as lockdown restrictions ease.

“Streaming will go down as people go back to work,” Demas said. “But the rollback into work will take months. How many habits are formed in that time because people got used to streaming?”

Ad dollars, however, are likely to lag until the economy gets back on track and the industry creates a common currency and measurement standard for streaming that brands can trust.

What are people watching?

Netflix is the SVOD player gaining the most traction, with people spending 29% of their total streaming minutes with the platform during the week of March 16, per Nielsen. Nine of the top 10 streamed shows during the second week of March are on Netflix.

Netflix is followed by YouTube, where people are spending 20% of their streaming minutes, followed by Hulu at 10% and Amazon at 9%.

But 31% of streaming minutes are spent on other platforms, meaning that ad-supported viewing could be seeing a boon as the economy crumbles.

Well-funded, top-tier players such as Netflix and Amazon appear to be best-positioned to weather the storm, as are smartly packaged bundles such as the $13-per-month Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN combo.

What about linear?

Without live sports, linear TV is hanging on by the thread of local news and increased daytime viewing during the pandemic.

Viewing of live local news grew 7% across demos from early February to the week of March 9, with adults over 25 spending 30.4% of their TV consumption time watching local news during the same period, according to Nielsen. Ratings increased 3.5% to 12.5% across local markets as more people tune into the news to find out what’s happening where they live.

Daytime cable news viewing skyrocketed 347% year over year during the last week of March, growing 50% more than total TV viewing time during the same period, according to Samba TV.

But people are also turning to social media for local news. During March, local news engagement climbed 196% on Twitter, 62% on YouTube, 34% on Instagram and 15% on Facebook, according to Conviva.

“Local news is so important because every area is [responding] differently,” Demas said. “But when the pandemic ends, is local news less vital or urgent?”

Linear TV will also be hit by a lack of live sports. Roku found viewers who watched live NHL and NBA games in February increased their streaming time between 58% and 63% in the first three weeks of March, while their linear TV viewing was flat.

If the NFL season can’t start on time this year, linear TV might be in even more trouble.

“The main driver of linear TV is NFL football,” Demas said. “Where is NFL football come August and September?”

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