Understanding the viewing habits of modern users is a prerequisite to correctly catering to their needs. Much has changed since people watched their favorite shows and daily news on linear TV, regularly gathering in front of the screen (or, shall we say, the cathode-ray tube) in the living room. But it’s not just the technology that changed. Along with all the advancements, we’re seeing a significant shift in consumer demands and habits, which now call for different approaches from content creators and providers.

The viewing habits differ from generation to generation, so addressing the members of generations X, Y and Z takes a more nuanced, strategic approach in creating and curating content. We’ve written about the viewing habits of the members of Generation Z in another post on our blog. In this post, however, we will attempt a high-level analysis of the current viewing trends.

Viewing habits and the virus

There has been a significant shift in TV viewing habits since the introduction of social distancing and lockdown in many countries around the world. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, streaming video providers, unsurprisingly, reaped the most benefits, accounting for 23% of consumer TV viewing time compared to 21% in February and a mere 14% in 2019. Coronavirus will certainly get much of the credit for viewability stats for 2020.

In the second week of March alone the total streaming time grew to 156.1 billion minutes in the US (per day), compared to 127.6 billion minutes during the last week of February, as per a Nielsen analysis

OTT still on the rise

OTT video is a global trend and we’ve seen many new players entering the market over the past couple of years. We’ve written about Roku making its way to new markets and the streaming heavyweights Apple TV Plus and Disney+ fighting tooth and nail for dominance in the newfound battleground. No wonder the big players wand a piece of the cake. Park associates have estimated that over 310m connected households will subscribe to at least one OTT service by 2024. At the same time, SVOD revenues are expected to reach nearly $26 billion in 2020 alone, following the annual growth rate of 4.1%.

Linear TV

The coronavirus pandemic has given an unexpected boost also to linear TV. Although there are no live sports to watch, local news shows are seeing increased daytime viewing as people are hungry for the virus-related regular updates.

Viewing of live local news grew 7% in all demographics between early February and mid-March. Adults aged 25+ spent 30.4% of their TV consumption time watching local news during the same period, according to a Nielsen report.

At the same time, cable news viewing went up to 347% over the last year’s figures for the same period.

Optimistic as these statistics are, most of today’s consumers (51%) use their TV mainly to watch streaming content. This is especially true for younger viewers (18-24) who tend to use their television this way more often than older viewers (45+).

Will linear TV remain relevant beyond 2020?

Linear TV has been seriously hit by the lack of live sports during the coronavirus pandemic. Sometimes this happened at the benefit of streaming providers as Roku saw 58% – 63% increase in streaming time following the permanent cancellation of NHL and NBA games in February. At the same time, Roku’s linear TV viewing was flat. This spells bad news for linear TV in general – if live sports don’t resume in 2020 due to the coronavirus, traditional TV programming might be in trouble, even if the pandemic subsides.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean linear TV will become completely redundant. Viewing habits may change, but traditional TV remains many people’s go-to channel for sports events, news, interactive shows and primetime content. Viewers are expected to keep their cable TV subscriptions while subscribing to OTT offerings at the same time. 

Social media as an alternative to linear TV news

People who are on the lookout for local news but do not subscribe to cable TV turn to social media for a substitute for regular updates on the pandemic and other topics. In March, local news engagement climbed 196% on Twitter, 62% on YouTube, 34% on Instagram and 15% on Facebook, according to Conviva.

What services are people watching?

Big players such as Netflix and Amazon appear to be best-positioned to survive the current situation. New offerings such as the attractively-priced $13-per-month Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN combination.


Netflix is by far the most popular on-demand video provider. It is estimated that an average viewer spends 29% of their total streaming time on the platform during the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, nine of the top 10 streamed shows during the second week of March are hosted by Netflix.


YouTube closely follows Netflix, as people are spending 20% of their streaming minutes on the platform, followed by Hulu (10%) and Amazon (9%).

Cord nerves and cutters

Many consumers do not watch live television at all. 66% of consumers report that more than half of their video consumption is on demand as opposed to live broadcast. 13% of consumers report that over three-fourths of their consumption is on demand video.

The top three sources for video content are YouTube, live television, and Netflix. 

Can OTT and Pay-TV complement each other?

There has been a lot of talk about the possible co-existence of on-demand and linear TV, and today we know that the convergence will be inevitable. Modern viewers have certainly ample content to choose from, and TV remains the leading source for live sports and local news. 

But to stay competitive, broadcasters and media companies need to adapt the viewing experience to new trends by embracing hybrid content distribution and providing both linear TV and OTT content so that consumers can enjoy the best of both worlds easily. This is reflected in current trends, as an increasing number of traditional broadcasters are transforming their offerings to embrace OTT. NBC Universal’s Peacock’s offering will include thousands of hours of combined live and on-demand streaming content.

Sky, on the other hand, has recently launched its Sky Multiscreen service allowing viewers to watch the content wherever (via additional TV screens, mobile devices and tablets) and whenever they want, whether it’s a linear or downloadable video.

Delivering multi-platform, multiscreen content is also a great way to optimize the TV experience. We’ve written more about this in our post about HbbTV. One of today’s audiences viewing habits is using a second screen while watching TV. This can often be a distraction but surprisingly can also help to enhance the TV content and serve as an additional channel for generating social buzz.

Television may no longer be a linear medium. HbbTV offers ample opportunities for novel use cases that successfully bridge the interactivity of the internet with the social, vicarious aspects of watching television.

Platforms offering or mimicking shared experience

While TV originally served as both vicarious experience and entertainment, this is currently substituted by viewing streaming services and interacting with other people on social media.  


New social services are trying to offer the best of both worlds. TikTok, for example, is a social network with strong video platform DNA. Other platforms have attempted to create shared experiences, TikTok has successfully built its brand as one. It helps people engage with each other. And although these relationships are very superficial, they are certainly entertaining, very easy and insanely addictive. This is further reinforced by “response” videos or “duets” where users can duplicate videos and include themselves alongside. 

YouTube Live

YouTube Live allows content creators to reach their audiences in real time – partly as an attempt to mimic live TV. YouTube creators can use this capability to stream their video game playthrough or host a live Q&A session with subscribers. 

Netflix Party

Netflix Party is a browser extension which has recently gained popularity in the wake of coronavirus, allowing multiple users to watch a TV show or movie together, mimicking a living room experience.

Too much to handle?

With instant, on-demand access to content, many people may feel a little overwhelmed. Confronted with a wide selection of quality video content – all available at their fingertips and precisely targeted to their tastes, viewers are simply paralysed by choice. This results in lower overall satisfaction. It’s a nice problem to have but directly results from the OTT offerings. The psychologist Sheena Iyengar explains this phenomenon in her best-selling book The Art of Choosing as well as in and Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice on a similar topic.

The personalised recommendations on services like Netflix and the vast trove of available content provide a really comforting feeling but don’t make the choice any easier for the viewer.

Dwindling attention span impacts viewing habits & preferences

With more on their plates, viewers find it hard to focus on one thing. Being surrounded by content seriously affects the attention span and, as a result, viewing habits. For example, we have trained our brains to expect stimulation. The internet and the lowbrow attention economy it introduces leads to a situation in which we’re not allowing ourselves a slightest incursion of boredom. This phenomenon, among other things, is discussed thoroughly in a great book Deep Work by Cal Newport.

In 2019, Nature Communications published a study on the dynamics of collective attention span. The takeaway is rather dire: today’ information overload is seriously impacting our content preferences. We not only favor short content, but also rarely dwell too much on anything we see. Today, things become popular – or even generate global outrage – only to completely disappear out of public view a couple of days later. People’s viewing habits are not much different.

TikTok is currently the leading short-form video platform. Just like Twitter originally only allowed 140 character messages, TikTok lets users record only 15-second videos. TikTok clips can be connected together for up to 60-seconds.

Likewise, viewers prefer shorter video ads as the optimal length of an ad is fifteen seconds or less. Only six percent feel that a video ad should be more than one minute.


TV and on-demand services have their respective pros and cons. TV is still considered a trusted environment and on-demand services are praised for their incredible troves of high-quality content – so valued by binge-watchers.

Sooner or later, broadcasters and media companies will have to embrace the inevitable convergence of linear TV broadcasts and non-linear TV, and implement technologies to deliver content in a multifaceted way, and on a growing number of devices.

The growing popularity of TikTok has shown that users globally favor short content users.

YouTube is still a very popular medium, but doesn’t necessarily compete with VOD services. It’s geared towards very specific content needs (music, entertainment, tutorials); and mainly focuses on short-form videos which, rather than providing immersive experiences, are consumed in people’s idle time, mostly in-between other more important activities, e.g. in daily commutes.