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Harris Poll: More Americans Are Streaming Than Watching Pay TV

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(Image credit: VAB)

CHICAGO—In another sign that streaming has taken center stage in many consumer’s homes, a new survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of TransUnion found that more Americans are streaming than watching cable and satellite TV and that they are more engaged with programming and ads on streaming services. 

Between mid-November and mid-December 2021, 70% of Americans who watched TV during that time streamed, including 82% of 18-54 year-olds, the survey found. 

In contrast only 56% of Americans who watched TV during that month did so via cable and satellite and the gap was even bigger among younger audiences. Only 35% of those under the age of 35 who watched TV said they watched cable or satellite TV.

In addition 67% of those who use both streaming and pay TV said they preferred streaming. 

The poll found that consumers prefer streaming for high-engagement viewing occasions, such as watching their favorite show or when they want to ‘lose themselves’ in a program. The survey also found streaming ads resonate more with consumers – especially the younger audiences advertisers covet – than ads viewed on cable or satellite TV, the researchers said. 

“It’s clear that streaming television generates more interest among viewers across content and ads, making free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels critical to advertisers. Streaming viewing time will soon eclipse traditional TV, and with tens of millions of streaming-only households already, advertisers need the right tools to identify and reach audiences through streaming channels,” said Matt Spiegel, executive vice president of Media and Entertainment Vertical, at TransUnion.

The survey found 45% of TV viewers have three or more streaming-capable TVs at home, nearly two in five (38%) have more than one brand of smart TV in their home, and over half of streaming viewers (55%) watched more than five streaming channels in the past month, creating a fragmented ad market. 

In terms of engagement, almost twice as many streaming and cable/satellite viewers aged 18-54 claimed to pay more attention to commercials on streaming (43%) versus cable/satellite (23%) and nearly three fifths (59%) said streaming TV commercials are more relevant to them than commercials on cable/satellite TV.

Nearly half (47%) say streaming has more engaging/interactive commercials compared to only 28% who say the same about cable/satellite.

Consumers also liked the lighter ad load, with 69% agreeing that streaming tends to have shorter ad breaks compared to cable/satellite TV, which likely also contributes to increased ad attention.

“Consumers are telling us how they want to watch TV, and that is increasingly on streaming services,” said David Wiesenfeld, lead strategist, Media and Entertainment Vertical, TransUnion. “It’s now up to our industry to deliver the seamless, engaging TV ad experiences streaming enables. It starts with being able to recognize consumers across platforms and devices. That will require advertisers, media companies and ad tech platforms to evolve toward an identity infrastructure for TV that serves the needs of all constituents.”

 The full report is available here (opens in new tab).  

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.