Streaming

Time spent streaming is going up—but there’s a catch

Many popular platforms aren’t ad-supported.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

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If you haven’t heard, streaming is the future. But too bad for marketers: A big chunk of that future isn’t ad-supported. New data from Nielsen released last week breaks down how Americans are watching TV and on which platforms.

In the month of December, streaming accounted for 27.7% of all time spent on television sets, according to Nielsen, while cable captured 37.3% and broadcast took 26.1%.

While that’s on par with viewing habits throughout the year, Americans watched a whopping 183 billion minutes on over-the-top platforms during the week of Christmas—an “all-time weekly high,” per Nielsen. Streaming accounted for a third of total TV time during that week.

Take a look at some of the streaming services accounting for December’s streaming watch time:

  • Netflix commanded 6.4%
  • Amazon’s Prime Video was at 2.1%
  • And Disney+ made up 1.6%

What do those services have in common? Barring some select programming on Amazon Prime Video, they don’t come with ad breaks. While those figures may be small on their own, tally them up: At least 10% of all streaming time spent watching television is on platforms that are almost entirely ad-free.

“The viewing has moved, but so much of it has moved [to] non ad-supported streams,” Dave Morgan, CEO of TV-buying platform Simulmedia, said. “There’s a real disconnect.”

  • Ultimately, that percentage is possibly even higher since that estimate doesn’t include time spent watching other ad-free streaming services on the market, like HBO Max, Hulu, and Paramount+, all of which have both ad-supported and ad-free tiers. Nielsen doesn’t break down time spent on these other services individually, but it did say 3% of total streaming time went to Hulu and Hulu Live.
  • The estimate is also not measuring time spent doing other ad-free things on TV, like gaming. Gen Z ranks “playing video games as their preferred form of entertainment,” and about two-thirds of US consumers play video games at least once a week, according to data previously released by Deloitte.

Most ad-viewing hours are still through linear TV, Simulmedia has found. Linear TV—which on the whole has viewers older than 55, according to Nielsen—still makes up 95% of total TV ad-viewing time, per Simulmedia’s estimates, while only 4% of ad-viewing time is spent on streamed ads, Morgan said.

Cheer up: Earlier this year, 65% of US consumers told Deloitte they watch free ad-supported video services at least some of the time.—KS

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