TV Watchers Settle Into a New Normal Amid Covid-19 as Viewership Levels Out

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As people around the country affected by stay-at-home orders have settled into their new housebound routines, time spent streaming and watching television is beginning to level out.

That’s according to new data from Nielsen, which said that total TV usage last week (April 13-19) was down about 2% compared to the prior weeks since people began sheltering in place due to Covid-19, when television viewership started growing considerably.

About 23.4% of people with TVs in the U.S. watched traditional live or time-shifted programming on their television or connected devices such as smart TV apps, streaming sticks or gaming consoles in that weeklong period. It’s the lowest total use of television time in the last five weeks, which saw a high point the week of March 23, when a slightly higher 24.6% of people with televisions were watching programming. U.S. viewers spent 154.6 billion minutes streaming programming that week, a 9% decrease from the 169.9 billion minutes spent streaming the previous week, which set the current pandemic high-water mark in streaming minutes.

The data reflects still-heavy television usage but suggests a leveling-out as Americans have likely settled into new television-heavy routines. Viewing was slightly down across most sources including live TV, DVD playback, video game console and internet connected devices, Nielsen found; time-shifted viewing was up a slight 2% compared to the previous week.

That’s not to say television viewing has returned to pre-pandemic levels of consumption. The 154.6 billion minutes spent streaming the week of April 13 is nearly double the amount of minutes U.S. viewers were spending streaming a year ago.

As that number has grown,  the percentage of time spent with different streaming platforms has remained remarkably consistent. U.S. viewers are still spending about one-third of their streaming time watching Netflix, equal to a year ago; the same can be said about YouTube, where about one-fifth of streaming minutes are still spent.

All 10 of the top shows across subscription and video-on-demand services were from Netflix, which this week reported a remarkable 15.7 million additional global subscribers in the quarter. Executives attributed the quarter’s growth to an increase in demand for at-home entertainment.

According to Nielsen, Netflix crime drama Ozark was the No. 1 show across SVOD, with nearly 5.2 million minutes spent watching any of its three seasons. Tiger King, the true crime phenomenon also exclusive to the streamer, was No. 2 in terms of time spent, Nielsen reported, while library titles like The Office, All American and Grey’s Anatomy rounded out the Top 5 SVOD titles in terms of viewing time.

Overall, total television viewership is up month-to-month in the U.S. The New York market, a Covid-19 epicenter, had a 20.4% increase in total TV usage the week of April 13 compared to a month prior, the highest change in all U.S. markets. The Buffalo, Baltimore and Denver markets all saw similar 19%-plus increases in television viewership in the same time span, ranking No. 2, 3 and 4, respectively.

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