TV Time Spikes for Kids Stuck at Home During Coronavirus

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It’s no surprise that as Americans across the country are being told to stay home or shelter in place, national television usage is up. But new data from Nielsen shows that kids are spending considerably more time in front of the television than other audience demos—and many of them are playing video games.

From March 16-22, total use of television among people was up 18% compared to the previous week, according to Nielsen. Nearly a quarter of Americans with televisions in their homes watched TV during that week, a considerable uptick from the approximately 20% who used their TVs a week prior.

Among all ages, about 14% more time was spent on live TV week-over-week, while internet-connected devices, which include streaming devices along with other viewing sources like laptops and tablets, was up 28% week-over-week.

The changes in media consumption have been starkest among kids under 17 as schools close their doors in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Children between 2-11 spent 31% more time using the television from March 16-22, while children 12-17 spent 43% more time using the TV in the same time period.

Kids’ television usage time was up the most week-over-week compared to other age groups. Live TV viewership increased 31% from ages 12-17 and 24% among children 2-11, and time-shifted television jumped 27% and 30% week-over-week, respectively.

They’re also spending more of their time viewing DVDs, with kids 2-11 watching 45% more time on DVD playback and kids 12-17 devoting 35% more time to DVD playback. Internet-connected device usage jumped 35% among kids 2-11 and 48% for kids 12-17, compared to a 28% overall spike.

By far, the biggest contributor to TV time was video game console usage. Kids 12-17 spent 59% more time using video game consoles from March 16-22 compared to the previous week. Meanwhile, kids 2-11 spent 45% more time using video game consoles in the same time frame.

It’s not just kids: Among people 18-34, video game console use was up 29% and for people 25-54, it was up 25%. Even adults 55 and older spent 22% more time using video game consoles than the previous week, Nielsen reported.

Video game console use was up 35% across all ages—a bigger week-over-week increase than any other viewing source.

The spike in video game console usage tracks with other data tracking similar surges. Many retailers are reporting they are sold out of the Nintendo Switch video game consoles. It’s happening off consoles, too: The video game platform Steam, which is not available on consoles, reported a record 20 million concurrent online users on March 15.

The new data about kids’ surging television viewership underscores just how quickly consumer behavior is changing as people of all ages are told to stay indoors and self-isolate to limit the transmission of coronavirus. The spike in usage among kids, many of whom are out of school and practicing distance learning amid the crisis, highlights the growing importance of kids and family programming that has only grown more pronounced as kids are trapped at home and parents are looking for ways to entertain them. This week, Amazon Prime Video pushed kids and family programming like Arthur in front of its Prime paywall for housebound families.

However, advertising spend is not pacing with the surge in live television viewership and overall television usage time. A bleak survey from the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that linear TV ad spend stood to plummet as much as 41% in March and April as buyers pause or adjust their ad spend to account for the public health and economic crises facing the country. On Thursday, Magna Global slashed its forecast for ad spend across the board. The firm expects total linear ad sales to decline nearly 12% this year and ad spend across all media to suffer a 2.8% drop.

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