TV Viewing During the First 45 Days of Lockdown

By Patrick Hanavan  | 

March 12 marked a day of change for US national television: the day live sports came off the air. A study combining data from iSpot.tv and Inscape examines the subsequent 45-day period, through April 26, to get a snapshot into how TV patterns evolved as a result—and the conclusions are encouraging. Overall, viewing and advertising are both up. Linear, VOD and OTT all saw 9.3 percent more ads delivered to homes week over week, compared to the same stretch in 2019. Put another way, a total of 81.3 billion additional ad deliveries occurred in those 45 days versus last year. Linear viewers watched a total of 10 percent more TV, while streaming subscribers enjoyed 10 percent additional content during the weekend of March 13 to 15. This spells good news for marketers, who are benefitting in several key ways.

Boom for Brands
Approximately 26 percent more brands —or 1,247 more—advertised on television between March 14 and April 12, compared to the same period a year ago. There are a few reasons for this increase. Overall, reports AdAge, brands advertising on TV are getting smarter and more real-time. Additionally, the sudden loss of costly live-sports inventory means networks have a greater range of lower-priced advertising available for marketers and smaller brands are taking advantage of the opportunity to get in on the action.  Over the course of the 45 days examined, roughly 326 brands delivered new coronavirus-related campaigns.

Migrating Audiences
Sports fans are finding ways to fill in game-time viewing voids, often compensating for those hours via morning talk shows and daytime programs, which jumped 16 percent the week of March 16 compared with one week prior. C-SPAN saw a 40 percent viewership boost as sports aficionados tuned in for pandemic news coverage, followed by CNN with a 35 percent increase. That’s congruent with an overall mid-March surge in general news viewing, not just among the sports-fan sector. Kids are home from school, so family-centric programming is also on the rise, especially TeenNick, that witnessed a 171 percent viewership spike. Other cable networks likewise felt the love: Discovery Family, Travel Channel and Spanish language Universo benefitted from the redirected attention of regular sports viewers. Of course, some diehard fans found other ways to get their sports fix by tuning into ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (8 percent of smart TV homes) or the NFL draft (10 percent of smart TV homes). In non-sports viewing, binge-watching during the last two weeks of March centered on a pair of police shows—Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and NCIS: Los Angeles. Further, American Idol, The Voice and Chicago P.D. scored high numbers of binge viewers, based on Inscape data. This viewer migration means brands currently have the ability to reach more viewers while spending less.

Streaming Staying Power
Media value devoted to the backing of streaming services more than doubled during the study’s 45-day period, at 120 percent year-over-year. Tiger King certainly topped most-watched lists, while pandemic-centric movies and shows surged on Netflix in mid-March. Around that same time, regular sports fans (viewers who’d normally spend one continuous hour watching some form of athletic programming) committed to 47 percent more streaming time. Viewers with moments to spare had the bandwidth to discover previously untapped free ad-supported television services, such as Tubi, Xumo and WatchFree—the latter of which enjoyed a 108 percent tune-in spike from March 12 to April 26. Roku is likewise winning, after adding nearly 3 million active accounts during the first quarter of 2020. Sales topped $321 million, with more than 72 percent of revenue coming from its ad business.

Certain challenges undoubtedly exist for the television industry, due to coronavirus-related factors such as cancelled events and halted productions, but one point remains undeniably clear: viewers stuck at home are clamoring for content. Increased screen-time presents fresh opportunities for networks to deliver programming in novel ways, and marketers are taking advantage. As always, we’ll keep our eye on television viewing developments to keep you in the know during this dynamic time.

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