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More than 8 in 10 American households have access to at least one on-demand TV service, and the proliferation of these content sources is having a dramatic effect on TV viewing behavior, according to a new report from Hub Entertainment Research. In its latest analysis of TV content sources, Hub found that for the first time more TV viewers turn to an on-demand source than to live TV for their TV entertainment.

To be fair, live TV remains the single most-used “default” TV source, as a plurality (39%) of respondents said it’s the first thing they turn on when they want to watch TV. However, live TV’s influence has greatly receded, down from being the default source for 47% of viewers last year and 50% in 2013. (These figures are derived from surveys of people who have broadband at home and watch at least 5 hours of TV per week.)

In combination, live TV and over-the-air are the default source of programming for only a minority (44%) of TV viewers this year, down from 54% just a couple of years ago.

By comparison, on-demand sources – including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, DVR, and video-on-demand – combine to be the default source for 48% of viewers.

It’s not just live TV that’s declining: DVR use has also plunged. Over the past 5 years the percentage of viewers who turn to their DVR first has declined from 21% to 14%.

Which source is picking up the slack? Why Netflix, of course… Indeed, fully 22% of TV viewers said they turn on Netflix first when they go to watch TV, up from 19% last year, 15% in 2016, and 13% in 2013.

Moreover, the percentage of TV viewers who use Netflix (65%) at all (i.e. not just as their default) is now approaching the proportion who watch live TV (76%).

Netflix Is Now The Default For Younger Viewers

In a sign of the changing times – and likely foreshadowing what’s to come – Netflix alone has surpassed live TV to become the default source of TV content for 18-34-year-old viewers.

Specifically, more than one-third (35%) say they default to watching content on Netflix first, up from 32% last year. That tops the 26% who turn on live TV first when they want to watch some TV, which is down from 35% last year.

The trends are pointing in the same direction for older viewers, too, but there’s a ways to go before they reach the same milestone.

This year 18% of 35-54-year-old viewers turn on Netflix first (up from 12% last year), compared to 42% who turn on live TV first (down from 52% last year).

Viewers ages 55 and older, meanwhile, are 8 times more likely to default to live TV (56%) than to Netflix (7%) despite the same shifts occurring. Recent data shows that OTT video is becoming more popular with older households, although they’re mostly light streamers (as opposed to being heavy viewers of traditional TV).

TV In General Has Far More Appeal With Older Viewers

Is TV even a default source of entertainment? Certainly it seems that way for many older viewers, but that’s not the case for youth.

Among the full respondent sample of TV viewers ages 16-74, a plurality (30%) said that watching TV (a TV show or movie) is their favorite thing to do when they have free time for entertainment.

The next-most popular source of entertainment is going out (21%), followed by reading (13%), gaming (12%) and browsing the web or watching online videos (9%).

As expected, those averages mask some significant differences by age. For respondents ages 55-74, for example, 36% default to watching TV as their primary source of entertainment. Just 24% of 18-34-year-olds concur.

Broaden that younger age bracket to 16-34-year-olds and TV’s role is even more compromised. Only 21% of 16-34-year-olds count TV as their default source of entertainment, matched by playing video games (also 21%) and getting out and about (also 21%).

In comparing viewers ages 16-34 with those ages 35 and older, the analysis indicates that:

  • The older group are slightly more apt to default to going out and reading; while
  • The younger group are slightly more likely to browse the web/watch online video and much more likely to play video games, use social media and text.

Earlier this year, a separate study from Hub Entertainment Research found that 18-34-year-olds allocated just 28% of their entertainment time to TV shows, compared to an estimated 48% for respondents ages 35 and older. By contrast, the younger group devoted twice as much time as their older counterparts to online video, 50% more to social media, and more than twice as much to gaming.

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of 1,933 people ages 16-74 who have broadband at home and watch at least an hour of TV per week. The data concerning default TV and entertainment sources is based on those watching at least 5 hours of TV per week.

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