The Dynamics of Choice

Hulu Insight: Viewer Data Reveals the Dynamics of Choice

Watching TV used to be a one-way relationship. Big studios would create content, sell it to one network and program it to air at one time, once a week. From there, viewers would have to rush home and see if there was a show for them, or choose another activity to occupy their time … that is the TV experience of the past.  Today, with the proliferation of on-demand streaming services and major advances in technology, viewers can get the content of their choice when they want it, on their favorite device, wherever they want to watch and for as long as they choose.

In fact, 60% of our viewers tell us they like to watch multiple episodes of a series in one sitting.  Thirty-two percent prefer to watch week-to-week, and a very dedicated (and likely sleep-deprived) 8% will frequently choose to binge an entire season or series in a single day.

To better understand the viewing habits of the bingers, the appointment viewers and everyone in between, Hulu Insights analyzed our massive store of viewer data to reveal three key findings that have emerged now that TV viewing is completely in the viewer’s control – what we call the dynamics of choice.    

 

1) The Water Cooler is Alive & Well

Emmy Winning Drama The Handmaid’s Tale is one of 2017’s breakout hits, and our data reveals that it is the perfect example of appointment viewing in the on-demand space.  New episodes were released every Wednesday and viewers turned up in droves – on average, 66% of viewing to each new episode occurred within the first three days of availability … and each week that percentage increased as new viewers came into the funnel.

 

 

The Handmaid’s finale drove a massive spike, but in the days following, the views continued to roll in as new people started the series.  Hulu’s instant, complete and unlimited availability sustains the life of the show.

Additionally, those who started The Handmaid’s Tale after the release of the season finale binged it in the true sense of the word, watching nearly 3 episodes on average per viewing session.  About 60% of these new viewers finished all ten episodes in one week.  And a highly-addicted 30% completed the season it in just three days.

 

 

2. “Catching Up” Is Just Watching

The notion of “catching up” on a series – binging prior seasons in order to be current with newly released episodes or seasons – is beginning to fade, particularly in an environment when shows are available in perpetuity.  What we’ve discovered is that viewers who exhibit a particular viewer behavior tend to retain that habit in subsequent seasons.  In others words, if you watch weekly in one season, you’re more likely to do that for the next.  Similarly, if you binge a season, you’re apt to do that again.  There are certainly viewers that switch between these modes, or watch in some hybrid fashion, but they are in the minority.  Take a look at FOX’s Empire: among those who watched the latest season as new episodes were released, 3 out of 4 had done that for the prior season.

 

 

3. Moods Influence TV Selections

When we at Hulu Insights were little, we used to watch a lot of scary movies that we rented on VHS tapes.  But since we didn’t want to go directly to bed with a brain primed for nightmares, we would turn on the TV in hopes of finding something to cleanse our palettes.

As it turns out, we’re not alone, but we no longer have to hope – we can choose.  Hulu viewers pick specific content for mood-management conditions. Six of the top ten shows that viewers select immediately after concluding an intense episode of The Handmaid’s Tale are comedies – shows like Family Guy, Casual and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

 

 

Interestingly, Law & Order: SVU also tops the ranks, which seemed counter-intuitive given the subject matter, until we began to consider why the franchise is so successful:  it’s familiar, formulaic comfort food.  For decades, viewers have been ending their TV nights with the L&O family.

These are just three examples that demonstrate the diversity of TV behaviors that emerge when content is abundant and control is entirely in viewers’ hands. The shift is here:  television has progressed from a static, scheduled platform to a dynamic and custom experience.


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Q&A With
Gadi Amit

Founder, New Deal Design

Gadi: The development of serendipity in recommendations is very important. An analogy I use is that of a restaurant. If you go to a good restaurant, you don’t always want to see what you’re looking for. You’re looking for surprises. It’s not the expected, it’s the unexpected. You trust in the restaurant’s atmosphere. You don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but you trust their creativity and that you’ll enjoy whatever they serve you.

Do you think it is possible for a streaming service to become that “restaurant” - a trusted source of serendipitous recommendations?

Gadi: I absolutely do. But it is difficult. It’s a long game. It requires them to build trustworthiness with audiences through genuine content recommendations over the years.

Q&A With
Gandi Amit

Found New Deal Design

Gandi: The development of serendipity in recommendations is very important. An analogy I use is that of a restaurant. If you go to a good restaurant, you don’t always want to see what you’re looking for. You’re looking for surprises. It’s not the expected, it’s the unexpected. You trust in the restaurant’s atmosphere. You don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but you trust their creativity and that you’ll enjoy whatever they serve you.

Do you think it is possible for a streaming service to become that “restaurant” -- a trusted source of serendipitous recommendations?

Gandi: I absolutely do. But it is difficult. It’s a long game. It requires them to build trustworthiness with audiences through genuine content recommendations over the years.

Q&A With
Jonathan Miranda

Emerging Strategy Principal, Salesforce

Another expectation among younger generations seems to be personalization. How are you seeing this play out in media?

Jonathan: If you go into the world of advertising and marketing, customized, personalized advertising is more important than ever before. There’s a realization that eight years of funny commercials that we’ve showed everybody probably for the fourth time, doesn’t work anymore. So there’s a lot of companies moving towards specialized advertising.

How does this type of personalization translate to personalizing content beyond advertising? Who’s going to predict what people will want to watch, and do it first?

Jonathan: It’s not about being the first to predict what people want to watch. It's different. It’s about getting viewers to browse. You want to show them the value of all of the money Hulu has spent and the great range of TV and film for them to choose from.

Q&A With
Julie DeTragila

Head of Research & Insights, Hulu

Julie: There are vast differences between the way under 35-year-olds watch TV and over 35-year-olds watch TV. I grew up in a world where there were maybe 10 channels, and my viewing changed as technology and options changed. Younger viewers started from a really different place. Everything has always been on-demand. Anything they ever wanted to see was available to them, and they therefore have different expectations for TV.

How so?

Julie: One of the things we found with Gen Z is that they really want to be immersed in something for a long time. They want to have content that they can live with for a while; it’s like this long, seamless storytelling. They’ll knock off a couple episodes a night and it will last a couple of months. And then they’ll re-watch it a million times over.

What other shifts have you seen happen-with Gen Z but also more broadly-with the rise of streaming?

Julie: For years, television had to deliver a specific rating. Shows had to appeal broadly or else they wouldn’t survive. And those days are long gone because, with streaming services, shows can reach hundreds of thousands of people or tens of thousands of people and still be considered successful. There’s more experimentation with the types of content; we’re not locked into an hour, a half hour, a comedy, etc. The industry can create really niche shows to appeal to niche audiences, but also simultaneously create big, broad experiences that are shared by millions.

Q&A With
Larissa May

Founder, #HalftheStory

Your work focuses a lot on Gen Zs who, for better or worse, are dubbed “digital natives.” How do you think a generation of digitally native audiences view digital content differently than older generations?

Larissa: I think for young people digital content is a way they’re able to explore their own identities through the story... They want to see themselves and their stories in the content that they’re engaging with.

Tell us a little more about this digital content as Gen Z’s form of self-reflection.

Larissa: Digital content is sort of like a currency. I find that young people want to watch things that their friends are watching so that they can have conversations about it. For example, with Euphoria, young people were just kind of in love with the characters. It was very timely and a bit provocative, and then there was a way that they could see themselves in these stories and connect with their friends about the topics and ideas in the show.

And then also they could almost embody these characters in their own life. I really do think that the TV shows that young people are buying into are actually influencing their culture and their trends and even their language that they’re using.

Q&A With
Richard Frankel​

Global Creative Director, Spotify

What does the future of personalization look like?

Richard: I think it’s all down to trust. We're going to see more opportunity on platforms like Hulu and Spotify where the user trusts us.

That’s really interesting. Another area we wanted to explore is podcasts, and their relationship to video. For example, the show Homecoming is an adaptation of a podcast; the podcast Office Ladies is a spin-off from a TV show. Why do you think the two formats work so well together?

Richard: Anything at all that drives conversation in pop culture, and TV does a lot of that, is worthy of consideration in a podcast environment. Any of these conversations can become multiple audio streams that evolve with experts, interviews, and all kinds of narrative threads that can flesh out characters, or narrative development, or whatever's happening in those shows.