Connected TV Usage Remains High as Covid-19 Restrictions Ease While Linear Drops

Co-viewing and CTV viewing haven't returned to pre-pandemic levels

the backs of people's heads watching TV
Total hours spent on connected TV devices was up 81% year-over-year, Nielsen said. Getty Images

Key insights:

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic meant that most people around the country remained housebound—and, in many cases, were watching television—for most of March, April and May. Now, even with restrictions easing, rising temperatures and local businesses reopening driving people outside once again, connected TV usage remains well above pre-Covid-19 levels, according to new data from Nielsen.

Higher-than-usual connected TV usage rates come even as traditional live television viewing returns to levels that were only slightly higher than in 2019, highlighting growth that’s largely unique to CTV. It underscores the belief among many television streaming executives and onlookers that the pandemic may prompt an acceleration in streaming migration.

“The rise in total media consumption during shelter-in-place restrictions was expected and has been well documented to date, but the persistent high levels of CTV use across smart TVs, internet-connected devices and game consoles suggests that life in the new normal includes a heavier dose of connected TV use than before the lockdowns,” Nielsen said in a release accompanying the data. “With 49 of the U.S. states now reopened, at least partially, the continued high CTV usage is a testament to consumers’ attraction to the variety of options available and the connectivity they have to it.”

In the first week of March, connected TV usage totaled 2.7 billion hours, according to Nielsen. By the first week of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, that number went up by nearly 50% to 3.8 billion hours. Usage hovered between 3.8 and 3.9 billion over the next four weeks.

But as restrictions loosened around the country and other usage began to return to pre-Covid-19 levels, connected TV numbers remained high. By the first week of May, connected TV usage remained at 3.5 billion hours and total hours spent on connected TV devices was up 81% year-over-year, according to Nielsen.

The ongoing pandemic has also amplified another trend: co-viewing, which also has not returned to pre-Covid levels. Co-viewing, though, was not specific to connected TV devices and instead grew across the board. Growth in co-viewing remained consistent no matter what type of programming people were watching, indicating a broad shift in consumer habits.

Subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services saw the most co-viewing growth. The percentage of co-viewing on SVOD services peaked at 55% of total viewing time the week of March 23, Nielsen said, but as of May 4, co-viewing was still occupying more than 50% of total viewing time. But co-viewing also grew across broadcast, cable and syndicated TV viewing and rose from 34% to 36% between the weeks of March 2 and May 4.

The shifts in consumer trends come as streaming services of all kinds race to build their version of the perfect service for consumers who have more entertainment options than ever and are facing economic headwinds due to the economic fallout from the pandemic. Streamers are particularly keen on investing in kids and family programming, some of which is aimed at being attractive co-viewing opportunities.

Meanwhile, platforms like YouTube and Roku are rolling out connected TV features to account for sky-high connected TV usage.

Advertisers are also coming back to connected TV. Programmatic ad transactions on CTV rose 40% between April 5 and May 11 after falling 14% in March, according to recent research from Pixalate.

The spike in CTV usage also underscores the importance of streamers being on those platforms. Not every streamer is, despite a heavily marketed debut. For instance, HBO Max is not available on Amazon Fire TV or Roku devices, two of the most popular connected TV devices on the market.

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.
Publish date: June 4, 2020 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT