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For many Americans, connectivity is everything, and that trend has greatly influenced TV viewing over the past few years. During the height of countrywide shelter-in-place orders across the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic, weekly time spent watching connected TVs grew along with overall media use, rising by more than 1 billion hours as the weeks passed. Now, as states ease shelter-in-place orders and allow businesses to re-open, traditional TV usage is normalizing while CTV usage remains well above pre-COVID-19 levels.
The rise in total media consumption during shelter-in-place restrictions was expected and has been well documented to date, but the persistent high levels of CTV use across smart TVs, internet-connected devices and game consoles suggests that life in the new normal includes a heavier dose of connected TV use than before the lockdowns.
CTV offers consumers an array of content options, ranging from streaming apps to gaming and OTT channels. That variety is a critical element behind the increased usage. And while streaming video is a hot topic across the media landscape, it’s important to note that more than 60% of the subscription video on demand (SVOD) minutes viewed are attributed to acquired content rather than original programming from the streaming companies. With such a variety of options, CTV usage remains high, while traditional live TV usage in early May was only marginally higher than it was in 2019. That speaks to the massive attraction that connected media offers—even when consumers have the freedom to go outside.
High CTV access and usage is not unique to the current health crisis. Trends have been headed upward for some time. As of March 2020, Nielsen data showed that 76% of U.S. homes had at least one connected device. But because access doesn’t always equate to usage, we tracked in January that consumers in those homes were using those CTV devices for 12.5 billion hours each month. Fast forward to the week of March 30, 2020, shortly after cases of COVID-19 began to surface in the U.S. and quarantined living began, total hours spent with CTV devices was up 81% year over year. That increase equates to nearly 4 billion hours of CTV use per week.
While there are certainly people who watch TV alone, TV viewing has always fostered a communal experience among groups of people. This is particularly true for CTV usage. While U.S. households have connected devices throughout their homes, Americans use CTV devices most heavily in the living room, where everyone can watch together. This has always been the case, but the shelter-in-place restrictions have amplified the trend even more. And as a result, time spent viewing in other rooms declined.
The increase in viewing in the living room speaks to the growth of co-viewing as consumers choose to watch content together—especially during a global pandemic, which has likely provoked consumers to lean into their families and loved ones during the health crisis. In fact, Nielsen data shows that the current circumstances inspired increased co-viewing between the week of March 2 and the week of May 4. While co-viewing levels have come down from their peaks during the week of March 23, they remain higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic for most demographics.
But co-viewing hasn’t just increased in the CTV space. Co-viewing grew across broadcast, cable and syndicated TV viewing as well, rising 2 percentage points (from 34% to 36%) between the week of March 2 and the week of May 4. Subscription video on demand (SVOD) viewing among persons 2+ peaked the week of March 23 at 55%. Preference of what content to watch together does vary by age, but growth in this behavior during this time remained consistent, no matter what people are watching.
The rise in overall media consumption during U.S. shelter-in-place restrictions was expected, although perhaps not to the degree in which it did. With 49 of the U.S. states now re-open at least partially, the continued high CTV usage is a testament to consumers’ attraction to the variety of options available and the connectivity they have to it. So in this new normal, we see that connected TV and co-viewing are a big part of the new media consumption equation.
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Challenges arising from the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) are likely to accelerate the use of existing and new technologies and tools as consumers go into lockdowns, millions are forced to work from home and digital connectivity takes even more of a hold on everyday habits.