Tuning in to Changing Viewing Habits

Breaking the Habit Loop

Late last year, Hulu embarked on a research study we called “Becoming First,” in which we explored the cues, routines and rewards associated with TV viewing. We especially wanted to consider this in a world where new streaming services are launching and content is becoming increasingly fragmented.

What we learned is that the primary cues and motivations for watching TV remain consistent, as people want a social connection – both physically by watching with others and culturally, through shared experiences. They use TV as a companion, they want emotional escapism and they make plans to fill time, and have regimens and routines around watching content.

It’s difficult to disrupt these habits, and it takes frequency of messaging and consistency to influence those choices to change considerations and behavior.

We began to use this data to inform our business decisions – then March arrived and normal life was disrupted by physical distancing. Routines have been upended, and at the same time, viewers are seeking more opportunities to connect, more means of escape, and generally have more time to watch TV.

At Hulu, we witness viewing behavior changes manifested in the data we see every day across millions of subscribers.  

More Content, More Often, on More Devices

Recently, we shared with you some of the behaviors we’ve seen change at Hulu in this period – our viewers are watching, and binge watching, more content, across all genres. Binge sessions (viewing sessions in which a person watched 3 or more episodes of the same show) are up 41% since the beginning of March. We’re also seeing a higher frequency of viewing as 18% more viewers have turned on Hulu every single day.  

They’re also accessing from more devices. On average, we saw that Hulu was viewed on 3% more devices per account since the start of physical distancing.  A larger share of viewing is occurring on laptops, indicating that household members are seeking alternative screens.  Mobile viewing is also up, though users are watching in their homes, leveraging the extra screen. Wifi viewing on mobile phones has grown 30% since pre-COVID days. 

And our newest subscribers are hitting the ground running. In March, new subscribers started out at a higher level of engagement than those who joined in prior months.

Rediscovery & Discovery 

There’s a tremendous diversity of viewing happening on Hulu right now. On average, our viewers are watching 9 different titles in a given week – up 26% vs the same time last year. We’ve already shared with you how many viewers are turning to “comfort TV” shows like Grey’s Anatomy, This Is Us, and comedies like Bob’s Burgers, Dave and How I Met Your Mother

During this period, 42% of our viewers tell us they’ve rewatched a favorite TV series and a third have rewatched a favorite movie. 66% started a new show they hadn’t seen before and 41% finally started that series they’ve been meaning to watch.  Our behavioral data supports that claim: at Hulu, we’re seeing shows climb back up the ranks as viewers make their way through their “been meaning to watch this” lists:

And there’s no better demonstration of content diversity than what has been happening on Hulu over the past several weeks.

Sports Replacement

Among Hulu Live viewers, we’ve identified a segment of viewers that are our heaviest sports viewers, and wanted to understand what’s happened to their TV consumption since sports have been cancelled. Turns out, they’re not watching less TV—they’re watching over 6% more, across all genres. They’ve also shifted to more on demand content, as their proportion of live viewing has dropped by 5%.  The bulk of their sports viewing has been replaced by news content, but increases are everywhere:  


What’s Next?

This is the million dollar question. We all believe that there will come a time when we’ll return to some semblance of normal life: working, commuting, gathering. But this level of disruption is unprecedented, and is likely to have lingering effects in many categories, inclusive of all media behavior and television decisions. This quarantine also comes at a time when consumer shifts in television were already the norm; from linear to streaming, and then to more streaming services.  

Stay tuned to Hulu Insights as we share more learnings from our data and research to understand the residual impact on TV habits.

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