The TV industry is big business. It always has been. But how we define “TV” is very much an evolving story, simply because viewership and engagement is no longer directly tied to a predefined schedule or static set of channel options. And while people still spend more than twice the amount of time with traditional TV than their connected TV devices, trends over the last year showcase how streaming-first mindsets are critical to success in the future.
For context, Americans increased their streaming usage by 21% between May 2021 and May 2022. That uptick, much of which happened during historically low TV viewing months, fueled a dramatic shift in total TV consumption—even though total TV viewing remained virtually unchanged. In June 2022, streaming accounted for more than one-third of total TV time, 6.3 points higher than in June 2021.
The flipside of this surge in consumption is a growing expanse of content—and platforms to host it. In the period between December 2019 and February 2022, the number of unique video content titles grew from 646k to more than 817k1. And to complement the growth in titles, some now estimate there are more than 200 streaming services for audiences to choose from.
So, as lucrative and attractive as the streaming space is, success is far from easy. Several entities, including Deloitte, have forecasted subscriber churn amid the deluge of content and channel options, and a recent Nielsen survey found that 46% of streaming subscribers believe there are too many services available to them.
For content owners and buyers, knowing how to navigate the environment is anything but cut and dry. With so much competition—and a finite amount of time in any given day—any and all decisions could make or break whether audiences engage with a program. Said differently, going viral in the streaming space is a taller order than when audiences first coined the term “binge-watching” as streaming platforms started dropping full seasons of content all at once.
But what if, even in an increasingly crowded space, content owners and buyers could use data to determine whether content will drive viewership—or that it might even be binge worthy? And what if these determinations weren’t limited to streaming content?
The good news is that they’re not. The even better news is that employing this type of data will benefit viewers just as much as owners and buyers—perhaps even more. After all, they’re the ones clamoring for relevant content.
Given the amount of content that’s available—and will become available—metadata becomes critical to content discovery. It can also help content owners and buyers understand why audiences gravitate to specific content. When owners and buyers know which characteristics drive engagement, they have the information they need to drive viewership—and keep it.
So among the many characteristics to consider, which ones really factor into viewership preference and long-term engagement? And how can these characteristics actually be quantified?
To help content owners and buyers on this front, Gracenote, the content solutions pillar of Nielsen, recently announced a new data set that can be used to optimize program licensing and acquisition strategies as TV viewership booms. These are the characteristics that shed the most light on how individual streaming and broadcast programs are consumed:
- Bingeability: Understand how many TV show episodes audiences watch per day to quantify viewer propensity to consume multiple episodes in a row.
- Loyalty: Understand how much (in minutes and percentage of) available content is viewed per month to identify viewer likeliness to stick with a program.
- Program similarity: Identify programs that resemble other programs based on lookalike thematic characteristics, viewing audiences and historical performance.
While these characteristics might be useful to some degree in determining road-tested programs with established audiences, especially as competition rises, they will be critical in assessing audience engagement with new programs. As streaming continues to account for an increasing share of total TV usage, we analyzed two new Netflix programs that debuted this year to gauge how audiences received them: Inventing Anna, which debuted in February, and The Lincoln Lawyer, which debuted in May. Both shows performed well with audiences, as they each appeared on Nielsen’s top 10 streaming list for several weeks around their respective debut dates.
When we look beyond the minutes viewed, however, we can better understand program-level engagement—and see viewers were more engaged with The Lincoln Lawyer than Inventing Anna.
Given the reception and resulting media fanfare around The Lincoln Lawyer, Netflix did announce that it greenlit a season 2 of the show. That said, the loyalty and binge scores for the program provide independent data points validating engagement. Comparatively, the Shonda Rhimes-led Inventing Anna was planned as a limited series, and therefore, no second season has been announced. But if the creators and Netflix ever change their minds and need viewer validation, the loyalty and binge scores could certainly serve that need.