Older Viewers Are Streaming’s Fastest-Growing Fans

Streaming now accounts for one-fourth of total TV usage, according to Nielsen

Man watching TV with laptop in his lap
Television viewership during work hours is becoming a habit for many employees new to working from home. Getty Images

Key Insight:

Forced office closures and statewide shutdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic have changed work life for tens of millions of people in the U.S. And as their work and home lives alike have altered dramatically, television and streaming usage continues to climb.

Nielsen’s latest Total Audience Report, released today, highlights just how fast streaming is growing in the country. As of the second quarter of 2020, households that were OTT-capable spent 142.5 billion minutes every week streaming video, nearly 75% higher than the average 81.7 billion minutes spent streaming each week just one year ago, according to Nielsen.

And streaming now accounts for a quarter of all total TV usage.

“There’s a lot of services out there and more services coming that are providing content that is driving consumers of all ages to this behavior, which we think is something that will stick around going forward,” Nielsen svp of audience insights Peter Katsingris, who authored the report, said.

A growing portion of that streaming growth is coming from older viewers, who are often slower to adopt new technology than their younger cohorts. More than a quarter of streaming video time share went to viewers who were 55 and older, up from 19% a year ago, while streaming video share remained largely flat for viewers 18-24 and 25-34.  

But the appetite to stream has grown among all demos, Katsingris said, with all age groups showing an increase in time spent streaming. It’s also leading to new streaming subscriptions: A quarter of those surveyed who subscribe to at least one streaming service said they have increased their number of streaming subscriptions in the past three months.

The new interest in streaming content is evident even in Katsingris’s own home.

“My wife, who was never a streamer, is now hooked on binge-watching content,” he said. “And I never thought I would be a binge-watcher either, I normally would pick live sports over anything else, but it’s something that just sticks with you.”

The growth in streaming amid the pandemic has been well-documented by services of all sizes and business models, but the information helps quantify just how large that leap has been. Netflix—which has seen a two quarters of considerable subscriber growth—still accounts for about a third of all time spent streaming, Nielsen found. But new entrant Disney+, which debuted in November, now accounts for about 4% of all streaming time. That’s a sign that the relatively new service is catching on, Katsingris said. (That growth has also been evident in Disney+’s fast-growing subscription figures.)

Streaming video growth isn’t restricted to off-hours where viewers, freed of lengthy commutes or out-of-home activities, are choosing to spend their free time watching programming. For many employees now working from home, television viewership during the day is also becoming a habit, Nielsen found. Two-thirds of people watched TV or streamed content at least once a week during breaks from work, with one-third choosing to do it every day. More than half of those people said they watched TV or streamed content with sound while they were working at least once a week, and 29% said they did so every day.

News topped the preferred content among consumers, followed by comedy. Among those who watched TV or streamed content while working from home, 47% said they were watching the news, with nearly two-thirds saying those to watch local news.  

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.