Streamers are benefitting from lockdown, but will it last?

Buyers and analysts discuss whether or not the upward trajectory is sustainable – and how it will affect planning.
Tiger King

Television viewership has surged during the pandemic. According to the latest ThinkTV survey, Canadians 18-plus have been watching an average of 4.2 hours of television a day with one-third watching five hours or more. But, while linear TV viewing is up, streaming services are also getting more eyeballs than in the past. Streaming audiences have been growing at a progressive rate well before Canadians started spending more time in the home due to COVID-19, but the increase in media consumption over the past several months has definitely accelerated growth within on-demand audiences.

Research from Mindshare Canada, The New Normal and Stuff We Watch, shows that people now have a habit of watching streaming services like never before. The Mindshare research found that 70% of Canadians are accessing subscription platforms, although only 44% of French Canadians are accessing those platforms. There is still, according to Mindshare, a big gap in the French content that is available on Netflix and with other providers.

Outside of Crave, none of the Canadian-made providers are in the top five for subscriptions. Crave says it has seen growth since stay-at-home measures were put into place, between March 11 to May 24. While Crave did not disclose specific subscriber numbers, it did confirm that time spent streaming on Crave platforms is up 60% over that period.

 The big questions are, will these viewing trends continue post-lockdown and will Canadians continue to pay subscription fees?

Sarah Thompson, CSO Mindshare Canada, says, “We thought TV was going to be cut; it wasn’t. We thought we would run out of streaming content; we didn’t. Canadians say they are watching more of everything, not less. And, as we head into a recession, we can expect more of a home entertainment economy as it is cost-effective and still escapist. You see the advantages of Amazon to the view habits around movie consumption – Amazon has the most movies and Canadians want that.”

Scott Stewart, president of VMC media, says the significant changes in behaviour, specifically how many Canadians have now affirmed that streaming services are changing how they are watching TV, are showing media planners and buyers  just how rapidly audience behaviour can modify, even if we are still a little far from streaming audiences surpassing linear TV audiences. That parity to linear TV audiences could be a lot closer than initially imagined six months ago.

“At VMC, we have been modifying our linear TV plans for some time in order to compensate for growth in non-linear video consumption and to purposefully re-target linear TV audiences across multiple video platforms. But with audiences watching content wherever and whenever they wish today, the priority has now focused on how we integrate our data. Not just to help us understand how linear TV audiences are further fragmenting, but to help us prioritize a more holistic approach to buying video for our clients as we look forward and anticipate streaming to one day becoming the audience’s main source.”

When it comes to streaming services, Netflix is definitely the standard bearer with 7.2 million subscribing households in Canada according to Solutions Research Group’s estimates. Kaan Yigit, president and research director at SRG, says Netflix has gained nearly 400,000 subscribers since the beginning of the year. “They have a robust pipeline and tremendous market power and industry-leading user experience ratings – so expect them to stay fairly steady in the next year overall. They won’t grow subscribers that much [because] most people who want Netflix already have it. Those with the service are making it their number one destination when they want to watch something.”

SRG research shows that Amazon Prime subscriptions are now close to half the reach of Netflix. Disney+ started strong as well and is now in the third spot, but both have some headroom to grow. Crave, which increased in popularity last year due to its deal with HBO and the massive popularity of Game of Thrones, benefited more from the lockdown Yigit says this is partially because people are trialing services now that they have more time.

According to information from CBC, when comparing January to May 2020 over the same period in 2019, video views on its two-tiered VOD CBC Gem increased by 57%  total, including a record-breaking month in March 2020 when unique visitors/viewers increased by 43% compared to the previous month.

Yigit says the challenge will be sustaining that and staying top-of-mind.

“When that interest recedes as people are less in a ‘what’s the latest news’ panic and there are three or four big names in people’s minds for comedy and drama… They will also face competition from Acorn and Britbox, which are also slowly growing as niche players.”

Still, CBC saw its highest number of unique visitors/viewers to the streaming service over the past year – no small feat.

Yigit says strong streamer viewing was a trend before the pandemic and has accelerated during the lockdown. “But we won’t be locked at home forever, so the viewership will start levelling off from the peaks of April and early May. I think different services will be affected differently based on their subscriber base, their programming pipeline and target audiences and where they rank against the market leaders.”