With so much excitement in the streaming industry, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s underpinning the way audiences now engage with television. In fact, there likely wouldn’t be this much excitement about streaming if it weren’t for the widespread adoption of digital connectivity that took place as audiences dove into new content options in mid-2020 to stay occupied as the COVID-19 pandemic set in.
Today, streaming is the dominant TV option because audiences continue to gravitate toward the growing wealth of content they can access online, either through a TV-connected device or because they live in homes that receive their TV programming through broadband internet connections. As of December 2022, audiences had access to more than 821,000 distinct titles1 across streaming platforms, compared with only 231,000 available on traditional linear channels. This abundance of streamable content is attractive to audiences, and they’re actively leveraging technology to access it.
As of Jan. 15, 2023, 84.9% of U.S. households had at least one TV-connected device. We see similar trends among households migrating away from cable and satellite boxes altogether, as 33% of U.S. TV households in third-quarter 2022 accessed their TV content solely through a broadband internet connection (BBO homes). As of Jan. 15, 2023, the percentage had grown to 35.5%.
Importantly, the bounty of choice has not inspired increases in total consumption. Compared with the huge spikes in TV usage that COVID-19 drove, our daily use of television has long-since come back down from orbit and is largely flat with where it was pre-pandemic. Given the rise in connectivity, however, Americans are spending significantly more of their daily TV time with content they access with an internet connection.
Traditional programming remains a media staple, but audiences are watching more on their schedules
Internet-connectivity notwithstanding, audiences have not abandoned traditional, linear programming, as time spent with broadcast and cable still outweighs time spent streaming. In looking at how audiences are accessing that content, however, we can see that our on-demand lifestyles are now filtering into how we engage with traditional programming as well. Said differently, audiences are increasing the amount of traditional content they watch after it originally airs (commonly referred to as time-shifted viewing).
For example, the four primary English networks in the U.S.2 debuted seven new primetime dramas in September. These programs attracted a total of 25.5 million viewers during live and same-day viewing. In the week after they aired, the total grew to just under 40 million viewers. We see similar trends in aggregate programming as well. In third-quarter 2022, time-shifted viewing among audiences 18 and older accounted for 17% of weekly time spent watching traditional television. At the start of 2021, the percentage was 13.6%.
Interestingly, this trend is more pronounced among Black audiences, who spend significantly more time with live and time-shifted TV than other groups. Among Hispanics and Asian Americans, time-shifted viewing trends are flat year-over-year, but the time spent watching time-shifted content is well below that of the general population. And from an overall TV usage perspective, Asian Americans spend notably less time than other groups and the general population.
The other important growth trend pertains to households that receive their TV programming through traditional cable and satellite services. Despite the fact that broadcast and cable programming are dominant in these “cable-plus” households, they are steadily adding non-traditional content to their media diets.
As of third-quarter 2022, audiences in these homes spent just under one hour and 10 minutes with content accessed via TV-connected devices each day, up from just 40 minutes in third-quarter 2019. These households are also the most common TV households, accounting for 51.5% of the TV homes in the U.S.3
New content options and channels will continue to emerge to engage audiences, and we know from recent trends that having the right content definitely draws a crowd. And while audiences increasingly gravitate to digital channels, it’s clear that today’s media diets straddle the gambit across traditional and emerging—and will continue to do so as long as individual channels and content providers offer audiences options that appeal to them.
- Gracenote Global Video Data
- ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX
- As of third-quarter 2022, over-the-air homes accounted for 15.3% and BBO homes accounted for 33.2%.