We live in a golden age of content and media. By any standard, we have more to watch, listen to, and interpret than anyone could in a lifetime, even if it was their full-time job and passion. Yet often the scale of it is still lost on us. What can be said of hundreds of TV channels playing something 24 hours a day, on top of the endless live streams you can find on a multitude of sites? How much of it do we watch, and how does it affect us? There are so many questions to ask, and not enough time.
Yet understanding the content of today, and how and how often we view it, is essential to understanding today’s culture and where we are headed. That is why despite how large an undertaking it can be, we want to look at some of the key recent stats on content viewing.
Content is practically any entertainment or information you consume. There might be slight differences in the definition, but ultimately you know if you are watching it and it’s an all-encompassing term. While it might seem demeaning to some art forms, nearly all art is content (some of it better). It is every YouTube video you pull up and everything you bring up on Netflix. It is every TV program and movie you watch. This article you’re reading now is content, though for this piece we’re mostly going to focus on video content.
And it should be noted that we are regularly debating what it is and noting how it is changing. There are more formats than ever before, from the 22-minute sitcom to the Netflix original that is however long it wants to be. There are more artistic experiments that are trying out new and hybrid forms of entertainment and conveying information (some more successful than others), and that’s part of why we have to call content “content”. Sometimes what we consume is hard to define by standard metrics and normal considerations. Yet we persist and have a general idea of what it is.
There will be debates on what content is that goes on for years, but you certainly know what it is when you see it. Practically everything online can be considered content, even this very article. And perhaps most important of all is that there is more of it than anyone can consume in multiple lifetimes.
To start with, how are cable and television in general doing? What can we tell about them in today’s age of the Internet of everything and any content you could want. Millions of people still have cable subscriptions, and broadcast television is still widely available to anyone who wants to watch it. It is still a huge part of people’s lives, and that is not likely to change for decades. Yet following the trend, television itself might change to prevent the slow trickle (or in some cases a bit faster than that) of people who have been cutting the cord. They might take on more aspects of what the people want or offer channels on a more selective basis instead of huge channel packages. If people feel as though they are paying for dozens of channels they aren’t using, they might be more likely to stop paying for them.
And the amount of time the average person spends watching TV seems to be going down each year as well. Look at the chart below:
There was a leap down from 2016 to 2017, and only a small jump back up in 2020 when people had the pandemic to contend with and a lot more time at home. Experts anticipate a further decline in daily viewing, though we are skeptical of just how much the decline will be. Rarely does a viewing habit change so suddenly without outside impetus, and we anticipate nothing new to cause such a change.
While younger generations are watching less TV and cutting the cord more often, it is also true that older generations are sticking with tried and true cable and network TV. People over the age of 60 spend about 29 percent of their entertainment time on network TV. People ages 15-29 only spend 8 percent. Conversely, people aged 60 and up spend 14 percent of their entertainment time with streaming services. People aged 15-29 say streaming services make up 22 percent of their entertainment time.
Overall, though, note that the problem isn’t that people are spending less time watching video content. Adults are spending an average of 5 hours and 21 minutes each day doing that. It is the makeup that is what everyone needs to focus on, and that could change with a simple release of a hit show or feature.
While the world has moved on from just watching television, ratings are still vital, especially for television broadcasters. They in part determine ad revenue, and demographic information relating to ratings is still followed closely. There are still key demographics, and they must be catered to for shows and online channels to survive. And producers, network executives, and content creators of all sorts are still trying to tap into those demographics.
And in some ways, television content hasn’t changed. There is a great variety, and some shows are more popular than others. Ratings obviously vary greatly by the program of course, and proportional comparisons are interesting but not as relevant to the average person as overall viewership over time. They tell a different story, one of greatly changing tastes and of a need for more control on the part of the viewership.
Even looking back over the last five to seven years, there has been a steady decline in overall ratings, partially from other options and partially from a lessening interest in what is on television. Fewer people, at least proportionally, are getting televisions or cable subscriptions. Between 2014-2015 and 2018-2019, for example, the major broadcast networks saw a 20 percent decline in viewership. Among the ever-coveted adults aged 18-49 demographic, that decline reached 35 percent. Naturally, this is a huge loss for so large an industry, and networks are doing everything they can to keep up or adapt, lest they have to downsize or get taken over.
The easy point to get from this is that people want convenience, they want fewer ads, and they want to pay less for their content (a couple of streaming subscriptions are much less than a cable subscription on average). In truth, they have probably always wanted these things, but now they are actually available and are easy to come by. Some people might feel locked into contracts
Yet where have things not changed so much? When it comes to sports and news content. Television has a stricter hold on that, and the live nature of both types of content means that people are more willing to turn on the TV for them rather than at their convenience. The amount of DVR usage might increase in some cases, but watching as things happen brings a level of excitement that’s hard to emulate.
Still, there is no reason not to focus on what is working, and who is leading in the ratings. Take a look at the most watched networks of 2021.
We would also like to point out that there are exceptions to declining ratings. Cable news isn’t affected much by streaming numbers, and similarly, traditional television has a stronghold on sports programming, with NFL and Baseball broadcasts remaining relatively strong while they can broadcast. The World Series is usually the most watched broadcast outside of the NFL. The NFL is the NFL, and we don’t need to explain much more than that. There may be more streaming of such current programming in the future, but it seems as though traditional television is where people go for now. And if you want proof of that, all you have to do is look at the top primetime telecasts of 2021.
Out of these top 15 broadcasts, 14 of them were football. Only Oprah could make any headway otherwise. And a total of 92.877 million people watched the Super Bowl this year. It’s clear that event programming remains strong on television, even if ratings decline otherwise.
Now that we have a bit of information on television, what can we say about streaming? Only truly prevalent in the last decade or so, streaming has grown to such a degree that people are saying it will supplant traditional television. Yet while there is an argument for that to some degree, this might be a bit of an over-exaggeration. Here are a few key statistics on streaming services and their place over the last few years.
While Netflix often keeps its viewing numbers a secret, it isn’t so hard to get its revenue or subscriber numbers, and they show constant growth. While at times they may fall short of or surpass investor expectations, it is clear that more people have a Netflix subscription than ever before, even with increasing subscription fees and a focus on original programming that they didn’t have before. Their plan seems to be working, albeit with the occasional hiccup.
Other streaming services have grown popular as well. The launch of Disney Plus was generally a huge success, and Hulu and even services such as Paramount Plus have found a larger audience. Of course, there have been a series of other streaming services that did not make the cut (remember Quibi?), and some are struggling or working within niche markets. Some of it comes down to marketability, but others might be simply not providing the content people want.
If you want to compare the number of subscribers, just look at the numbers here
You probably have heard of most of these, and they clearly all have their audience. And they are not 100% in competition, except for perhaps for viewers' time. Streaming services might specialize in Anime (Crunchyroll) or classic or acclaimed films (Criterion Channel). Subscribers of these services likely also have a cable subscription or a subscription to another streaming service. Yet what they do, they do well and are a must-subscribe for fans.
Much like television, though, the recent pandemic has given us a bit of pause when it comes to analyzing the trends. People have had to stay home more than ever in the last few years, and the usual real world competitors to content aren’t around or not as they should be. It wasn’t as though people could safely go to nightclubs or social functions, which leaves more time for streaming and television. It will be interesting to see if subscriber numbers dip as a whole over the next few years.
One question does arise when dealing with so much content and so many different platforms and users: how is so much tracked? How is it possible to aggregate all of the information into something usable? Even something like a single view bot can make a huge difference in the metrics for the smallest outlets, and many unethical broadcasters online might try to pump up their numbers as much as possible to make themselves more appealing to potential advertisers. If there is a shortcut, someone is going to try it.
Even more concerning involving ratings and tracking of viewership are the issues of how experts are supposed to be able to track everything and make comparisons. Standard viewing on release day or first airing might not matter so much if a show has a strong online audience or becomes a classic just a few years later. A show can make its money back after executives have written it off.
With streaming services, there is also the issue that they are not always reliable providers of viewing data. They might release information that makes them look good, but they might not be so forthcoming if they had a bad quarter, or they might paint it in a flattering but unscientific light. Therefore, we can often only speculate on some of the numbers or the truth of the situation.
While there is much to talk about regarding streaming services such as Netflix on top of traditional broadcast television and cable television, other services cross the line into being something else. User-created content is not something that really had to be considered until the Internet came about, and only in the last decade and a half has it become a massive industry with rules and followings of its own. There are more than two billion users, and more than a billion hours of content is watched on the platform every single day.
YouTube is most certainly one of the biggest websites online, but just how overbearing is it? Unfathomably so, even with the best statistics and comparisons, we can find, there simply isn’t anything to compare with it on a general video hosting level, and while there are other sites, they are never the first things people think of.
Outside of Google, it is the largest search engine in use, and people often use it as such. If you search for something, you will find an answer to your problem. The search engine knows this, and you can trust that even some of the more vague or uncertain search queries often provide pretty accurate results. There are many complaints by creators about the “YouTube Algorithm”, but ultimately the algorithm often chooses what people want or is popular already, which might be to the benefit of the viewer in the short term.
There is more content on YouTube than we could ever watch in a lifetime. There are even some channels that run a Livestream practically 24/7, and keeping up with them would be more than we could ever hope to do. Of course, the content is probably not as high effort as some other channels, and we’ve long had that problem of there being too much on TV, but it’s been amplified to new heights. Instead of even several hundred channels on cable, there are now tens of thousands of major content creators on YouTube and similar platforms.
And in other internet terms, live-streamed content is becoming increasingly popular as it becomes easier for anyone to make. Millions if not more hours are spent by using Twitch, a popular game streaming platform (though there have been efforts to expand into other markets). Millions have been spent on exclusive deals for streamers, with both Facebook and YouTube competing for their share of the pie. There were on average 2.78 million concurrent viewers on Twitch in 2021, and this statistic has only been increasing since 2012.
Much like how televised advertisements were a huge stepping stone in the world of marketing, content viewing is now trying to reconcile itself with the rise of video marketing, online advertisements, and more. And it will be key to how we define content viewing and where the internet and entertainment industry go over the next decade and beyond.
In truth, a lot of it isn’t that much different from infomercials, which are still on the air and still get viewers regularly. Some might be more entertainment-focused and some might be in additional formats, and as always not all ads are effective, but there is a sense that influencer-driven content and advertising is the future of getting people’s attention. Though even this might just be a passing fad as people catch on to the usual signs.
In terms of results and marketing professionals, video marketing is one of the most popular forms of advertising, at least for those who can afford it (and it is getting more affordable over time). Television ads were video ads, as were trailers for movies shown before the feature presentation. The concept has been with us a long time, but now it can follow us anywhere and integrate into just about any content.
A few stats to consider, both in terms of television commercials and online ads, include:
There is a lot more to discuss on the subject, but just note that there is more to video marketing than what you see online. It has become prevalent in every industry. Even when it comes to business-to-business sales, it has become important. It is evolving alongside everything else as our content consumption habits change. As we get to do more research on the subject we will understand more. However, at the same time, we will find new ways to use video that will warrant research. It is a never ending topic of discussion, and part of a greater content viewing story.
Content has always been with us, but never to this degree. And as more people get into making content and there are more tastes to satisfy, there shall be evermore content. That’s partially why it is so important to keep track of the statistics (they give us a broad view), but it also will shape our culture to come, often in ways we cannot track or predict. We hope this piece has given you a better understanding of content and how people interact with it, and that your most basic questions have been answered. As for the rest, we encourage you to look into the matter more and wish you the best of luck with that.