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Study: Streaming becoming default viewing source

September 16, 2021

Since 2015, Hub Entertainment Research’s annual Decoding the Default study has tracked the TV source that consumers turn on first when they’re ready to watch. This year’s study uncovers a number of surprising shifts in viewers’ first stop for TV.

Highlights from the study:

1) More than half of all TV viewers say their TV default is an online streaming service—e.g., a subscription-based streaming service such as Netflix, a free streaming service with ads such as Pluto TV, or a live TV streaming service such as YouTube TV.

Online services are now 16 points more likely than traditional cable, satellite, or telco service to be consumers’ TV default—an advantage that’s twice as large as it was just a year ago.

  • 55 per cent say an online service is the first source they turn on, up 5 points from 2020.
  • On the other hand, 39 per cent turn first to a traditional pay-TV service set-top (including live viewing, DVR, or Video on Demand), down 3 points from last year.
  • Note: The remaining percentages each year default to viewing over-the-air, from an antenna.

2) Netflix has lost momentum as viewers’ default source over the past year.

  • Until 2018, Netflix was on track to surpass traditional pay-TV, single-handedly, as viewers’ first stop for TV viewing. But since then, the proportion defaulting to Netflix has levelled off, and it’s actually lost 3 points since 2020.
  • Although no single other streaming TV service comes close to Netflix as a default for TV, the four other most popular streamers (Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and HBO Max) have collectively gained 4 points in just the past year.

3) The TV default story differs dramatically by age.

  • Young consumers are by far the least likely to turn first to live TV channels when they’re ready to watch—and the proportions have continued to drop over time.
    • Currently, barely over one in 10 18-34 year olds default to live channels.
    • But notably, the proportion defaulting to live TV is lower than it was in 2019 in every age group.
  • Netflix’s overall drop as a default source since last year is especially pronounced among younger viewers. Instead, that group has embraced the other streaming services as their top TV destination.
    • 31 per cent of 18-34 year olds make Netflix their TV home base, but that’s down a full 8 points since last year.
    • Instead, 24 per cent of young viewers turn first to one of the other top 5 streamers, up an equal 8 points since 2020.

4) Why the TV default is an important measure: those who default to a TV service are much more likely than other users to remain loyal to that service.

  • Hub asked consumers to advise which TV service they’d keep if they could only keep one.
  • Among all those who use either traditional pay–TV service or one of the top streaming services, anywhere from 35 per cent down to only 8 per cent pick each service as the one they’d keep if they had to cut everything else.
  • However, among those who default to these services, the proportion who would keep each if they had to drop others ranges from 60 per cent to 46 per cent: in some cases, nearly 50 points higher than the ‘loyalty’ percentage among users generally.

5) In looking at the TV services viewers choose first, it’s important to keep in mind that TV is not necessarily consumers’ default *entertainment* option. In fact, TV competes with an ever-growing array of other options consumers can choose to satisfy their entertainment needs.

  • When Hub asks all consumers for their favourite source of entertainment and leisure overall, watching TV and movies is the single most common response. But fewer than one-in-three choose it as their entertainment default. More than seven in 10 would pick another entertainment option over TV.
  • 18-34 year olds are even less likely to turn to TV when they have free time for entertainment (22 per cent). A full one-third of this segment would rather play video games, engage with social media, or watch online videos (33 per cent).

“Like most other phenomena in the new TV landscape, the TV sources that viewers treat as their TV home base seem to be in a state of constant flux. Just when it looked like Netflix was set to become the centre of consumers’ TV universe, other streamers have stepped up their game to change the narrative,” said Peter Fondulas, principal at Hub and co-author of the study.

“What has remained constant, however, is the critical importance of being consumers’ home base for TV in the first place. If and when we reach the point where a critical mass of consumers decides they’ve hit their TV service maximum, the last service to go when viewers begin to scale back is the one service they turn on first.”


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