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Tops of 2020: Television

2 minute read | December 2020

2020 was not, by any standard, a typical year. Even the linear television universe, a familiar and cyclical staple of media, saw its fair share of oddities. Halts in production of new and existing shows, delays in fall TV season premieres and an overall sense of time lost became realities as Americans were forced to recalibrate to spending more time at home for the good of public health and their communities. And in all likelihood, the atypical nature of the year will be profound enough to drive permanent shifts in consumer behavior, including media consumption. In fact, we’re already seeing them.

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. In fact, second-quarter 2020 live and time-shifted TV consumption among people 18 and older increased by an average of 4 minutes per day (to 4 hours: 8 minutes) from the prior year. That dwarfs the 1 hour and 14 minutes we spend with our TV-connected devices each day.

As consumers adjust their media habits to fit their on-demand lifestyles, it’s critical for programmers, advertisers and studios to understand what program types are engaging live audiences. Importantly, sports and news remain the two genres that command massive live viewership. That’s not to say that consumers won’t watch other programming when it airs live, but consumers do tend to be more selective when it comes to watching other genres as they air. The top time-shifted programs stand as evidence, as a vast majority of the listed programs there are primetime dramas.

Importantly, consumers will always gravitate toward good content. And in light of shifting work schedules, we’re even seeing shifts in when consumers are watching TV, namely those who now primarily work from home. The growth in available streaming services has also showcased the value of library content—programming that stands the test of time and engages audiences well after the original air dates.

Given the breadth of media options available, there likely won’t be a time when there’s nothing for consumers to watch or engage with. And the growing depth of available content continues to inspire consumers to spend more time with media each day. In the second quarter of this year, consumers 18 and older spent just shy of 6 hours each day with video, an increase of 35 minutes from the prior-year period. In order to make the most of that time spent, networks and advertisers need to stay informed about where the eyeballs are as well as when they’re watching.

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