COVID-19’s Impact on TV Viewing Habits

BY Rachel Cagle
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How did you pass the time during your 2020 lockdown turned socially distanced quarantine? If you’re like many Americans, you probably took up baking or tried your hand at gardening. You could have also gotten into puzzles or video games. Or, the most popular pastime of all, you probably watched A LOT of TV. TV has always been a popular pastime, pandemic or not. However, with more newly found free time than ever, America’s TV viewing habits changed a bit last year.

COVID-19’s Impact on TV Viewing Habits

While much of the shifting behavior involves streaming on-​demand video, consumers continue to spend the lion’s share of their TV time with live and time-​shifted programming,” says Nielsen in the company’s Tops of 2020: Television report. We’re now watching a perhaps not so healthy mix of the two TV types. The typical American adult’s TV viewing habits consist of five hours and 22 minutes of TV consumption every day. According to Nielsen, four hours and eight minutes of that time is spent watching live and time-​shifted TV. The remaining one hour and 14 minutes is dedicated to viewing on TV-​connected devices.

What We’re Watching

American consumers aren’t just spending this significant chunk of their days watching TV to pass the time. COVID-​19 and the country’s political climate are changing by the day. So, consumers are flocking to their local TV news channels to stay up-​to-​date on the happenings in their area. As mentioned in a previous SalesFuel blog post, “Younger viewers are particularly interested in watching the local news now, with viewership among two- to 17-​year-​olds spiking by 20%. Behind this age group, 25- to 54-​year-​old Americans’ viewership increased by 10.1%.”

Of course, the TV viewing habits of Americans include more than just the news. Entertainment remains important and TV helps those in solitude feel more connected to the outside world. Nielsen found that sports broadcasts were among the top TV programs that viewers tuned into last year. Americans have also been watching police-​related TV shows while social distancing, as well as TV shows about families.

Creating Advertising Strategies

Now, just because these TV viewing habits have been shaped by the pandemic doesn’t mean that your clients should write them off as a one-​year phenomenon. “In all likelihood,” says Nielsen, “the atypical nature of the year will be profound enough to drive permanent shifts in consumer behavior, including media consumption.”

Even before the pandemic fully hit the country last year, 27.4% of U.S. adults said that they watch more than five hours of TV on a daily basis, according to AudienceSCAN on AdMall by SalesFuel. Additionally, last year, 59.3% of Heavy Television Watchers took action because of TV commercials they saw. Another 39.9% of these viewers also took action last year because of streaming TV ads that they saw.

Your client needs to know the specifics of their target audience’s TV viewing habits in order to make the best decisions about TV ad placement. By looking up your client’s audience profile on AudienceSCAN, you can discover what types of programming they can’t get enough of.