Binge-viewing becomes normalized for older consumers - Mulligan

In 2020 binge viewing declined among younger digital natives, while it significantly increased among over 55s. (Getty Images)
Tim Mulligan

Older video audiences are acquiring streaming-centric behaviors at a fast-growing rate, with 55+ year-olds making up 23% of all U.S. binge viewers.

2020 was a trend accelerator, with a half-decade of adoption trends compressed into a mere three quarters of the year. Lockdowns temporarily rebooted the attention economy, with consumers recouping an average of 15% of more weekly time (according to MIDiA Research estimates) due to lockdown measures. Both traditional linear TV and video streaming services experienced double-digit increases in viewing engagement.

The resulting surge in demand brought later adopters to streaming, who quickly became exposed to the balkanized user experience. The most striking example of this is the increase in binge viewing.

Sitting down to watch multiple episodes of a TV show was used as a promotion tool by Netflix following its pivot into on-demand streaming. As a result, binge viewing grew from an activity carried out by 28% of U.S. consumers, to one where 53% of all consumers aged 16+ engaged in the behavior by Q4 2020. 

Binge watching has been a mainstream activity (i.e. above 50% penetration) in the U.S. however, since Q1 2020. What changed dramatically post lockdowns is the demographic make-up of those binge viewers. In Q4 2020, 23% of all U.S. binge viewers were aged 55+, up from 15% in Q4 2018. At the same time binge viewing among the younger, more digitally savvy audiences had declined dramatically. In Q4 2018, 51% of 16–34 year olds binge watched video. In Q4 2020, this had fallen to 41%.

While binge viewing declined among younger digital natives, it significantly increased among over 55s to the extent that these older streamers now make up the largest single demographic among binge watchers.

Older video audiences are thus acquiring streaming-centric behaviors at a fast growing rate. Why? Because binge viewing, like playlists, is unique to the on-demand world of streaming, and thus novel to first time users. Once users become familiar with the functionality, the behavior peaks and then gently declines as users become accustomed to the viewing freedom and security of streaming.

The new wave of digital laggards being brought into the VOD world through Peacock, HBO Max, Disney+ and Apple TV+, are all newbies to the bingeable content consumption opportunities of streaming. Additionally, these late arrivals are overwhelmingly older than the digital natives that made up the core base of cord-nevers, and the earlier wave of cord-cutters, which has been undermining the MPVD world.

The demographic make-up of streaming audiences is thus changing significantly. The infusion of older users into the VOD consumer base will have far-reaching ramifications. The resurgence of binge viewing is the start of this process, and the new direct-to-consumer services should expect savvy switching (strategically subscribing and unsubscribing from streaming services) to pick up post peak binge, as older streamers progress along the streaming adoption curve.

As streaming adoption matures among the digital laggards, re-aggregation needs to begin in earnest in order to avoid high churn and optimize the user experience. Failure to do so risks undermining market growth, and the winners will be services that can deploy either group or third-party assets to solve the currently siloed user experience.

Tim Mulligan is the research director and lead video analyst at MIDiA Research – the entertainment intelligence and consulting firm. MIDiA works with businesses in the space, from TV broadcasters and production companies to streaming services, tech companies and financial organizations. Tim’s research encompasses the entire online video economy, with a key focus on how streaming is transforming the video consumption landscape. Prior to joining MIDiA Research, Tim ran a number of technology starts-ups focused on the TV and film industries.MIDiA Follow MIDiA on Twitter and LinkedIn

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