TV Viewing Surges as People Stay Home

By Brendan Gill  | 

As more Americans take to their homes in practice of the now-ubiquitous custom of social distancing, TV streaming services and makers of linear programming are working hard to keep consumers both informed and entertained. Times of quarantine or crisis naturally lend themselves to increased media consumption. Case in point: Nielsen reported a 56 percent jump in total TV usage in Houston, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey, which struck in August 2017. Now, the nation is banding together to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how streamers and broadcast networks are responding.

Early Release Dates
It all started with Disney Plus. On March 13, the streaming service announced plans to drop Frozen Two three months ahead of schedule, following President Trump’s national-emergency declaration, in the hopes of surprising “families with some fun and joy during this challenging period.” In so doing, Disney Plus led the charge on what’s become an early-release floodgate. Hulu debuted the first three episodes of its new miniseries, Little Fires Everywhere, before their slotted airtime. To combat losses caused by production shutdowns and nationwide movie-theater closures, many studios likewise followed suit. In an unprecedented move, NBCUniversal decided to forgo the traditional 90-day waiting period between theatrical release and digital airdate, and make three of its latest Universal Pictures offerings—The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma—immediately available for streaming.

Extra Care for Customers
Economic hardship will be faced by many in the coming weeks or months, and several subscription services have stepped up to extend free-trial periods to new customers. AMC Networks, which owns a group of video platforms including Sundance Now, UMC, Acorn TV and Shudder, recently stretched its complimentary test time from seven to 30 days. Shudder specializes in horror content—which, perhaps perversely, has seen an uptick in demand. To that end, the streaming provider now offers daily Twitter viewing recommendations, along with a specially curated selection of “Shut In” movies about characters trapped in places they want to escape. And the WarnerMedia-owned company Rooster Teeth made its live programming publicly available, after previously safeguarding it exclusively for subscribers.

Linear Ratings Spike
The start of Daylight Savings Time in the US typically corresponds with a ratings slump for broadcast channels, as viewers unplug from their sets to enjoy an extra hour of sunshine. But this March 8 was different, since it coincided with the World Health Organization’s declaration of coronavirus as a global pandemic. Shutdowns and closures followed, and linear networks soon began reporting Live+Same Day ratings surges not seen since before the days of streaming. NBC’s The Voice recorded an audience of 9.68 million viewers in late March, placing it squarely at the top of Monday night primetime ratings. Primetime PUT (People Using Television) levels were up every day during the third week of March, and younger viewers have also been lured back to traditional programming. Nickelodeon’s offerings, for example, enjoyed a 16 percent viewership spike among kids 2-11, compared with the prior month. That’s good news for networks still reeling from the blow caused by live sports cancellations. And in this time of uncertainty, every bit of positivity is worth celebrating.

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