Editor’s note: Mary Ann Farrell is senior vice president of research at E-Poll Market Research, Encino, Calif.
Streaming video such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and other forms of subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) are going head-to-head with prime-time TV, and a propensity for binge-watching among viewers gives streaming content an edge over traditional network television. This trend isn’t lost on TV networks, many of which are beginning to experiment with release strategies by offering binge alternatives to linear in an effort to retain these viewers.
A quarterly study conducted by E-Poll among television streamers (13-to-54-year-olds who have streamed at least one TV program in the last six months) reveals that half of respondents said they like to wait for an entire season of episodes to be available before they begin to watch a new program. Not only does this conflict with traditional TV viewing but the majority of SVOD viewers watch streamed programming during prime time (72 percent overall). Furthermore, Millennials are more likely than Gen Xers and Boomers to be loyal to a program if an entire season of episodes is available.
Notably, being able to watch multiple episodes of a TV show in one sitting is a key driver of SVOD and viewership. Nearly two-thirds of Netflix subscribers and half of Hulu Plus subscribers say the ability to binge-watch TV programming motivated their decision to subscribe to these services. In fact, binge-viewing is second only to “no commercials” as a main reason SVOD subscribers watch programming through their services.
Moreover, the majority of streamers (67 percent) indicate that the availability of full seasons of episodes makes their viewing experience more enjoyable. Women are even more inclined than men to say having a full season of episodes available to view increases their enjoyment (71 percent among women vs. 62 percent among men). The ability to control viewing options may be more important to women as they also cite viewing convenience more frequently than men as a reason for maintaining their SVOD service.
The binging experience affords viewers a number of benefits. Some streamers say they like to binge-watch the episodes in sequence "like watching a movie." Others say it allows them to fully immerse themselves in the plotline and characters in a way that watching single episodes cannot. Most compelling is the control it offers the viewer. As stated by one female respondent who waits for a full season of episodes to come out before watching, "I like having the choice to watch a show for as long as I want, leave and come back another time to keep watching. I hardly ever watch regularly scheduled shows anymore because I don't like waiting."
What type of shows do binge-viewers prefer? Regular binge-viewers have a strong preference for serialized dramas, with continuing plotlines, followed by half-hour comedies. Procedural dramas – which typically have self-contained episodes – fall lower on the list. Heavy binge-viewers are also more likely to watch children’s programming than non-bingers, which is consistent with more children in the household among this group. In general, heavy binge-viewers (streamers who say they regularly watch multiple episodes in a row) tend to watch more TV programming overall, compared to those who don’t binge.
The shift to SVOD
A significant two-thirds of Millennials say they stream full-length TV programs at least two times a week, with three in 10 streaming every day. Furthermore, 32 percent of streamers indicate that their live TV viewing has decreased in the last six months. Female streamers are both heavier binge-viewers than males and are more likely to report a decrease in live/linear TV viewing. Also of note, 25-to-34-year-olds are the most likely age segment among these streamers to have cancelled their television service (19 percent indicate this), with another 19 percent indicating that they downgraded their service.
Though original programming is not yet a key driver in the subscription decision for SVOD services, it is highly regarded by subscribers who consider it on par with or better than network and cable programming. In fact, nearly all Netflix subscribers (93 percent) think that Netflix original programs are as good as or better than broadcast and cable offerings and over one-third consider Netflix original series to be better. The response is similar to Amazon and Hulu's original programming. The vast majority of Amazon Prime (85 percent) and Hulu Plus (83 percent) subscribers also think that the original shows on their respective SVOD services are at least as good if not better than broadcast and cable programs.
While it is no surprise that Netflix is top-of-mind for streamers – generating the highest usage and awareness overall – it is particularly noteworthy that Netflix subscribers also watch their streaming service more frequently than Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime subscribers. What are they watching? Six in 10 Netflix subscribers say they are “very likely” to watch episodes of shows currently airing on linear broadcast/cable TV, as well as shows that are not currently airing on linear TV and that they have never seen before. Thus, current programming and previously aired shows both take center stage in these Netflix subscribers viewing queues.
While Netflix still dominates in terms of sheer numbers of subscribers, Hulu Plus is the service most likely to have new subscribers. Over half of Hulu Plus subscribers signed up in the last year, compared to two in 10 among Netflix subscribers. A primary reason for subscribing to Hulu Plus is to catch up on new episodes that viewers may have missed on broadcast or cable TV. Additionally, a majority of Hulu Plus subscribers also have a Netflix subscription (79 percent).
When viewers want to watch a full-length TV show, they say they go to Netflix first, choosing the SVOD service over their DVR, broadcast and cable TV viewing options. Households with children or teens are even more inclined to choose Netflix first compared to households without children (34 percent vs. 24 percent).
SVOD subscribers over the age of 35 still indicate that broadcast TV is more important to them than their Netflix subscription (Netflix ties with cable TV in rank). However, in contrast, Millennial SVOD subscribers rank Netflix as No. 1 in terms of importance, followed by broadcast and then cable. Additionally, heavy binge-viewers rank Netflix far above all other sources of TV viewing as the most important source of TV viewing.
As the proliferation of new streaming services continues, viewing behavior will continue to change and shift toward a more seamless viewing experience. Binge-viewing is one example of that shift in viewing habits. Other changes include the new ways viewers find programming to watch and viewing on apps and devices other than the TV set. These changes will be areas of study in future editions of this survey. The new TV landscape requires content providers to understand and meet consumers’ expectations and preferences to remain competitive.
E-Poll’s study, which also covers device usage, program discovery and attitudes toward advertising, surveys more than 1,000 TV streamers (those who have watched at least one full-length TV program in the past six months) in the U.S., ages 13-to-54, on a quarterly basis.