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Streaming video has been popular with Millennials for some time, but it’s middle-aged Americans who are now getting in on the act, per a PwC report [pdf]. Almost 8 in 10 adults ages 35-49 accessed TV content from the internet in 2017, up from 53% just a couple of years earlier.

The rise in streaming video popularity has been just as stark among the 50-59 age group. In 2017, 63% of adults in this age bracket reported accessing TV content from the internet, up from slightly fewer than 50% during the 2 years prior.

The 25-34 group remains the most likely to watch streaming video (90%), closely followed by the 18-24 bracket (87%).

These figures align with MarketingCharts’ 4th Annual US Media Audience Demographics report, in which 25-34-year-olds emerged as the age group most likely to watch downloaded or streaming video on a weekly basis (88%). The study – which breaks down the age, household income and racial/ethnic composition of various media audiences – also found that more adults under the age of 45 watch streaming video than traditional TV on a weekly basis.

For its part, the PwC survey suggests that respondents are now as likely to use Netflix as pay-TV (73% each). While this has been the headline report in much of the press, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Firstly, the PwC survey was fielded only among adults ages 18-59 with household income above $40k. This eliminates Boomers and Silents – who are much more likely to watch traditional TV than streaming video. It also eliminates lower-income households, who are less likely than higher-income households to access streaming video.

Secondly, while the survey finds equal use of Netflix and pay-TV, that doesn’t necessarily translate to subscription figures. As of last count, Netflix had 51.35 million paying subscribers in the US as of Q3 2017, while the largest pay-TV providers had more than 92 million subscribers at the time.

Separate data suggests that a slight majority of US households have Netflix, while pay-TV penetration stands at about 79% of TV households.

PwC does in fact note that “due to heightened levels of password sharing, we report on access to a service rather than subscription to a service.”

All told, there’s no doubt that these services are trending in opposite directions, as subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) access increases alongside pay-TV penetration losses. In PwC’s survey, 27% of respondents reported foregoing pay-TV, being “cord cutters” (19%) or “cord nevers” (8%). That’s up from 21% without a legacy TV service in 2015.

Original Programming Is Important, But Isn’t the Only Consideration

As the number of households subscribing to multiple streaming services increases, SVOD brands are dealing with a more competitive environment.

Within that landscape, original programming has become a key differentiator: data from MarketingCharts’ The State of Traditional TV Viewing report indicates that a large portion of viewers subscribe to video services in order to watch specific shows.

PwC’s survey likewise indicates that original programming is a “very important” influence in the subscription decision for more than one-third (35%) of respondents. Even so, a wide variety of content (37%) appeals to more respondents than access to exclusive content (27%) when selecting streaming services, per the results.

Interestingly, the PwC report finds that “cord trimmers” (those who have scaled back their pay-TV subscriptions but still have them) watch more services regularly (2.8 on average) than do traditional pay-TV subscribers (an average of 2), and cord-cutters and cord-nevers (who average 1.8 collectively).

This supports the notion that cord-cutters tend to be lighter consumers overall. The finding that cord-trimmers watch more services on average suggests that streaming services generally are used to complement rather than completely replace pay-TV content.

These trends and more are explored in MarketingCharts’ The State of Traditional TV Viewing study, which analyzes viewing trends among key demographic groups and outlines pay-TV’s position in the wider landscape, particularly in comparison to streaming service content.

About the Data: The PwC data is based on a survey conducted in October 2017 among 1,986 Americans ages 18-59 with household incomes above $40k.

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