Is the age of the epic binge watch over? Vaccinated and newly freed from quarantine restrictions, have Americans finally turned our faces away from screens and embraced life IRL?
New data from consumer research firm Attest suggests that this isn’t quite true. In its annual US Media Consumption Report 2021, the company identifies a shift away from hours and hours of Netflix — with eyeballs increasingly trained on YouTube and Facebook instead (or in addition to?).
Watch this video in the Attest Explains series for a quick breakdown of some important US and UK trends in 2021.
NEWS TAKEAWAYS AND TAKE DOWNS
News consumption spikes in a typical election year, and it’s safe to say that while 2020 was far from typical, it spurred Americans to tune in to coverage of both the presidential contest and the pandemic. The expected news hangover is here and more pronounced than usual.
There is, however, a 2021-style plot twist: Americans may not see broadcast news as appointment viewing, but they are still seeking out information that makes them feel both informed and connected. Social media is increasingly filling that need, led by upticks in time spent on both Facebook and YouTube. (Ipsos and Axios dug deeper into these behaviors in a December 2020 poll, which even then showed evidence of change.)
“Notably, older Americans are nearly as likely as Gen Z and Millennials to engage with social media, disconnect from old sources of news and information, and shift from live to streaming services for their viewing,” Rob Salkowitz writes for Forbes.
Not only is the coveted 18-34 demographic turning away from live TV, but their parents and grandparents are increasingly seeing the appeal of VOD platforms and social media. But this content creation boom may be turning into an advertiser bust, with significantly less inventory and metrics viewed as a secret sauce far more precious than Nana’s heritage marinara.
Salkowitz cautions, “Traditional media placement on broadcast and live channels is likely to yield diminishing returns moving forward, while marketers will need to get creative about getting in front of media consumers who prefer content delivered to them how and when they want it.”
The good news (thank goodness — there is some!) is that podcasts might fill the void for some advertisers seeking to get the word out about products and services. Audiophiles have long been predicting the podcast takeover, and 2021 may be the year they’re finally proved right.
Salkowitz notes that “55.9% of survey respondents reported listening to podcasts, up from 48.7% in 2020. That continues a sharp upward trend and indicates that at least some of the big financial transactions taking place in the podcasting space over the past few years are likely to pay off if content providers can monetize their audiences.”(Note the if of monetization is still present, despite surging popularity.)
However, I believe some of what is being presented in this survey represents a false choice.
Multitasking reigns supreme in many households, including my own. Why choose between Schitts Creek and keeping tabs on your friends on Facebook? Stream and scroll simultaneously. Comedian Ronny Chieng explains the situation perfectly in this clip from his 2019 Netflix special.
And it’s not like Americans have abandoned streaming altogether in favor of racquetball or some other hobby. Nearly 70% of American households subscribe to Netflix, and more than half the population has access to Prime Video (included in Amazon Prime). A newer entrant, Disney Plus is also making significant gains in the marketplace, with 37% penetration after launching less than two years ago.
Streaming and VOD have now edged out live TV as the most popular way to watch — but just barely. Almost 83% of Americans stream media, but 81% still are loyal to at least some live content. About 20% report no live television consumption at all this year, a significant spike from 2020’s 14%.
And apparently the pandemic has further chipped away at parents’ resolve to limit screen time (we all saw this coming, right?). If you live with a kid 18 or younger, your household is more likely to have multiple streaming platforms on tap.
SOCIAL’S GAINING INFLUENCE (AND INFLUENCERS, PROBABLY)
None of this means that our appetite for video has been diminished. Far from it. The most popular social platforms have notable video components, the most obvious of which, YouTube, is also used by 87% of working-aged American adults at least once monthly. Facebook, which is used by fewer people overall on a monthly basis but is more heavily consumed (on a daily basis by power users) also heavily weights video to appear higher in the Newsfeed.
TikTok, favored by Gen Z and Millennials — composed entirely of short video clips — is ascendant. More than 48% of the surveyed population reported using the app at least monthly. But the much buzzed about Clubhouse remains, well, clubby, and has never been used by the vast majority of adult American consumers.
TV Technology’s George Winslow notes that Gen Xers seem to be less social (online at least) than either than their parents or their younger peers and children. “Unsurprisingly, Gen Z (aged 18-25) used social media on a daily basis the most out of all those polled (at 96%), but the boomer generation (aged 55-66) came next (at 87%).”
Winslow also points out a resurgence in radio — long predicted for the graveyard if commutes were to be banished — and audio content. In fact, Winslow writes, “Americans are listening to more radio this year, with just 10.9% saying they never listen to the radio (compared to 20% in 2020).” Perhaps some, but surely not all, of that trend can be attributed to more Americans venturing back into the office.