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How are Americans passing the time during social distancing? With a lot of streaming

Joe Supan

Apr 14, 2020 — 3 min read

Americans streamed more than double the amount of TV in March compared to last year, with the bulk of attention going to Netflix.

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In news that will shock no one, Americans have been doing a shocking amount of streaming during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to a new report by Conviva, a streaming analytics company, streaming jumped about 20% worldwide in the third week of March compared to the first two. The rise was even more dramatic for Americans: Streaming was up nearly 27% over the same time period. 

Nielsen also reported a similar surge during March. Streaming time increased by an astounding 34% over the first two weeks of March, and viewership for the third week was more than double that of the same week in 2019. 

“Streaming is a big part of a lot of consumers’ lives right now. We have seen a tremendous growth in just how much streaming is going on over the last few weeks as COVID-19 becomes more prevalent across many parts of the country,” Scott N. Brown, head of TV product at Nielsen, told The Hollywood Reporter. 

“The amount of time viewers are spending streaming more than doubled in the past year alone, and it’s nearly a quarter of the total time spent on TV among homes that have the ability to stream.”

What we’ve been watching

Even though Americans spent nearly twice as much time streaming in March compared to 2019, Nielsen reports that streaming as a percentage of TV-watching has stayed pretty consistent throughout the coronavirus pandemic. In other words, people are watching more TV all-around, not just on streaming services. 

Unsurprisingly, news shows have seen the biggest rise in viewers, with much of them coming from Facebook and YouTube. Conviva reports local news outlets saw a 247% rise in total views on their Facebook pages from Feb. 21 to March 23, while national news outlets saw a 97% increase.

But while viewers clearly want to stay informed, they also want some escapism. Netflix has so far been the most popular choice, accounting for 33% of streaming minutes in March, followed by YouTube with 19%, Hulu with 12% and Amazon Prime Video with 7%. 

Of the top 10 shows Americans watched in the third week of March, all of them were on Netflix. Since then, the service’s Tiger King series has exploded in popularity, drawing an average minute audience of around 19 million viewers in the U.S. For context, that’s more than season two of Stranger Things (17.5 million), but behind season three (20.5 million).

Daytime streaming is on the rise

While streaming time doubled in March compared to the same period last year, much of that growth has come during the day. As schools and workplaces began shutting down, peak TV-watching hours moved up a ton.

It’s not necessarily that primetime is now in the middle of the day — there just isn’t really much of a primetime during quarantine. According to Conviva’s report, daytime viewing hours rose more than 40% throughout March, with the greatest increase during the 11 a.m. hour. During the same period, primetime viewing actually decreased 2% overall. 

Viewers are also exploring new services

While people are certainly getting the most out of their existing subscriptions during this time, they’re also signing up for new services. Research firm Strategy Analytics projects a 5% rise in streaming subscriptions around the world by the end of 2020 compared to pre-pandemic models. 

Americans spent an average of $37/mo. on streaming services in March, up from $30 in November, according to a new survey from The Wall Street Journal and the Harris Poll. For now, it looks like most of these new sign-ups are going to established services. The survey found that 30% of respondents signed up for Netflix, followed by 23% for Prime Video, 21% for Hulu and 20% for Disney+. 

That boom might be short-lived, though, with many taking advantage of extended free trial periods. According to a survey by Kagan, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, 37% of streaming households would cancel a subscription if they lost their job during the pandemic. 

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