When People Go to Watch TV Now, They’re More Likely to Turn to Digital Sources Than Pay-TV

September 23, 2020

HubResearch Default Source for TV Viewing and Reasons Why Sept2020TV viewers are spending more of their viewing time with online TV sources than they did in the past. New research [download page] from Hub Entertainment Research shows that viewers now claim that they are spending a full 60% of their total viewing time with online or OTT sources, compared to 52% last year.

The tide continues to shift away from traditional or pay-TV, as half of the 1,600 US consumers (ages 16-74) surveyed say that online is now the first source they turn on when viewing TV. While this is only up slightly from 47% last year, pay-TV’s status as the default viewing source has dropped from 48% in 2018 and 47% in 2019 to 42% this year (includes live, DVR and VOD). This is even though more households in the US have pay-TV than OTT services.

The migration away from pay-TV can also be seen at a more granular level when comparing those who say their default viewing is live via a traditional pay-TV service versus Netflix. Four years ago the gap between live TV and Netflix as the go-to source of TV viewing was wide (48% and 15%, respectively). In 2020, the gap has narrowed, with only 30% of viewers saying they turn on live TV first, compared to 23% who start their viewing with Netflix.

Moreover, the percentage of viewers who name traditional pay-TV as their viewing default has decreased across all age groups from last year, with only about 1 in 7 18-34-year-olds saying they head to this viewing platform first. Recent Nielsen research shows that this age group is spending less and less time with traditional TV, in general, spending 18 minutes less with it in Q1 2020 than they did in the same quarter in 2019.

Reasons For Choosing Default Viewing Service

When asked what their main reasons were for making their chosen source the default for viewing, the top 2 reasons were that the source had their favorite shows (27%) and it was simple to find something to watch (26%). This again bolsters the point that content – and originals – are a driving force for subscriptions and retention.

However, these aren’t the only reasons for defaulting to a particular source. Viewers (one would assume those who default to pay-TV here) also make a source their default for viewing because of the live aspect — 21% enjoy being able to watch at the time shows, sports or news air. Others merely turn on a source first out of habit (19%), while a similar percentage chose their default because it has a variety of content available to choose from (18%).

If They Could Only Choose One

About two-thirds (64%) of viewers surveyed say they have both traditional and streaming TV services in their homes (down from 69% in 2019). This comes as the proportion of viewers who only have streaming services has grown from 14% to 18% in the past year. And, for those who subscribe to a streaming service, half subscribe to at least two of the Big 4 services (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+).

But, if viewers were told they could only keep one TV provider it would be a toss-up between traditional pay-TV (35%) and Netflix (32%). These are clearly the two most indispensable sources: at least twice as many respondents would pick one of those services as Hulu (16%), Amazon Prime Video (13%) or Disney + (10%).

To find out more, the full report can be found here.

About the Data: Results are based on a survey of 1,600 US consumers with broadband, ages 16-74, who watch at least 1 hour of TV per week. Data was collected in August 2020.


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