As Netflix Upends the Industry, 86% of the Content People Consume Is Still Ad-Supported

Nielsen report says percentage has remained steady for 15 years

Adults spend more than 75 hours consuming media each week, 86 percent of which is ad-supported. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Netflix has upended the TV industry, forcing all of its network and streaming rivals to devise new ways to fight back against the company this year. The biggest threat has been to the ad industry, which has resulted in a number of networks—including NBCUniversal,truTV and Paramount Network—reducing their ad loads to compete with advertising-free outlets like Netflix, Amazon, HBO and Showtime.

But according to a new report from Nielsen, even with more content options than ever before, audiences spent roughly the same percentage of their time on media platforms (86 percent) watching ad-supported content last year as they have during the past 15 years.

That share for ad-supported content has remained relatively flat over the past decade—85 percent in 2007, 84 percent in 2012—and down slightly from 89 percent in 2002.

In 2002, the only two media platforms available to most adults were TV and radio. Now, those options have expanded to include TV, radio, smartphones, video games and tablets. Two-thirds of U.S. homes now have an internet-enabled connected device capable of streaming content—like Netflix—to a TV set, including smart TVs, multimedia devices and video game consoles.

Thanks to connected TVs and smartphones, the amount of time consumers are spending on media jumped more than 25 hours per week between 2002 and 2017, but the share of time spent watching ad-supported content has remained the same.

In the second quarter of 2002, adults spent on average of 48 hours, eight minutes a week with media, and 42 hours, 50 minutes of that time (89 percent) was consuming ad-supported media. In the second quarter of 2017, the total time spent on media jumped to 75 hours, 38 minutes per week, with 64 hours, 55 minutes of that time (86 percent) devoted to ad-supported media.

The biggest five-year jump in that time frame was between 2012 and 2017, when total time spent consuming media each week increased 27 percent, from 59 hours, 29 minutes to 75 hours, 38 minutes, and ad-supported time jumped from 49 hours, 41 minutes to 64 hours, 55 minutes (31 percent).

While Nielsen has a vested interest in promoting the stability of ad-supported media, the data indicates that even in the era of Peak TV and more viewing options than ever, brands still have many opportunities to reach consumers across a variety of platforms.

Nielsen’s full report is available here.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.