We Still Spend the Vast Majority of Our Media Time With Ad-Supported Content

March 16, 2018

The rise of subscription streaming services and the proliferation of devices used to access media may seem to herald a new era of monetization in the media ecosystem. But that isn’t the case, at least yet, according to new data from Nielsen. In fact, even as the amount of time people spend with media has grown over the past 15 years, the share of time going to ad-supported media has remained remarkably consistent.

Consider that last year, American adults spent on average 75 hours and 38 minutes per week consuming media across devices and platforms. That’s roughly a 50% hike on the 51 hours and 3 minutes per week they spent with media a decade earlier.

But despite a strong evolution in device and platform penetration over that time span (more on that to come), the share of that media time going to ad-supported content stood at a lofty 86% last year, basically unchanged from the previous decade (85%).

The definition of platforms here is a little vague, but it includes TV, radio, smartphones, video games and tablets (and of course, streaming services on those platforms).

The Nielsen analysts make the case that ad-supported share of media time may have stayed consistent because “consumers’ time with media hasn’t remained a finite resource.” In other words, time with other media models has grown without taking share. That’s in itself a somewhat surprising result, though, as it suggests that time with ad-supported media is growing at the same pace as time spent with media relying on other revenue models.

It’s worth noting that device penetration has likely contributed heavily to the growing time with media. That time has ballooned by more than 27% in the past 5 years, at the same time as different media devices have become more readily available in homes.

How Device Ownership Has Changed Over the Years

From 2002 to 2017, household penetration of various tech and media devices has changed rather dramatically. That’s mostly apparent in the rise of certain platforms such as subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) and devices such as smartphones, tablets and multimedia devices.

At the same time, DVRs have essentially disappeared from US homes, and DVDs are also declining in usage. Although DVR adoption doesn’t appear to have peaked (55% of TV homes in December 2017), SVOD platforms are more widely used (62% of TV homes), and are almost as common as DVD players (69%).

What’s notable from the following graphic is the speed with which some of these devices have caught on: multimedia devices, for example, now have almost as broad a penetration as video game consoles (more on the video game console universe here).

One thing seems clear, though: ad-supported media has continued to thrive in this changing environment. Whether that’s an ode to this revenue model or a strike on consumers’ willingness to pay for content is a little more difficult to decipher.

Nonetheless, survey research has shown that consumers seem to have little willingness to pay for ad-free content (with some obvious exceptions)…


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