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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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.