If you were like most Americans, your viewing habits shifted greatly in 2020. Without the daily commute, many consumers found themselves with more free time at home. According to the November 2020 Nielsen Total Audience Report, in 2Q, daily time spent with video was up from the prior year by 34 minutes, with 4 of those minutes coming from live/time-shifted TV. The prior year saw a drop in live/time-shifted viewing by 16 minutes. Additionally, the need to maintain social distancing due to the pandemic resulted in an acceleration of the adoption of streaming video usage. According to data from Nielsen’s Streaming Meter, as of 2Q 2020 streaming now comprises 25% of all television minutes viewed, with Netflix being the largest contributor to streaming share at 34%, followed by YouTube at 20%. Since their launch in November of 2019, Disney+ now accounts for 4% of total streaming time.

Throughout 2020, viewers of all age ranges and ethnicities embraced watching programs via streaming video services. Somewhat surprising, older adults age 55+, who traditionally have been heavy television viewers, now make up 26% of all streaming minutes viewed. This is an increase of 19% from the prior year. Additionally, the number of subscription services that consumers are willing to pay for also grew in 2020. According to The Nielsen Remote Worker Consumer survey, only 2% of adults are reducing their number of paid subscription services, while 25% have added a service in the past three months.

The pandemic necessitated consumers quarantine at home which provided the perfect environment to binge-watch an assortment of content across a variety of dayparts. Perhaps you binge-watched some of the top streamed shows of 2020? According to Nielsen, favorites like The Office, Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds were the top three streamed acquired series (all airing on Netflix) while programs like Ozark, Lucifer and The Crown were the top 3 streamed original series, also all airing on Netflix. Netflix had the rights to all of the top 10 acquired series and 9 out of the top 10 original series. The one program that hit the top 10 that wasn’t a Netflix program was Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian, the Star Wars spinoff came in at No. 5.  

If you weren’t streaming some of those programs, perhaps you were watching more daytime television. According to Nielsen, professionals working from home during the pandemic spent two hours and 10 minutes more per week watching TV during the day. Workers are watching 21% more TV on weekdays between 9a and 4p according to Nielsen. About 65% of consumers surveyed back in August said they were watching video during breaks, but more than half also said they tune in while working, often with the sound on. News is the most popular type of content viewed or streamed. Among that news content, local news is king with 64% of consumers who connect with news content tuning into local news.

If you found yourself watching more news than usual, you were not alone. The year was a whirlwind of stories about the pandemic, social justice, protests and of course, the Presidential election. Cable news ratings across the three major networks all saw an increase from the prior year. Fox News was once again the top viewed network in all of cable for the fifth year in a row. Fox News viewership was up 45% from the same period the previous year. MSNBC saw a 24% increase and CNN saw an even greater increase, as it was up 85% from the previous year. According to Nielsen, looking at total day numbers since the election, CNN has averaged 1.6 million viewers, 1.5 million for Fox News and 1.5 million for MSNBC. Post-election, the cable news landscape continues to be extremely competitive with all three networks in a tight ratings race. With the new administration now in place, both CNN and Fox News have adjusted their program lineups. As part of those shifts, Fox News has added in an additional hour of opinion news at 7p due to the competition that they are experiencing from new players Newsmax and OAN.

2020 was a year unlike we have ever seen and video viewing habits of consumers reflected that. As more Americans are able to receive the vaccine, a return back to the office (and some sort of a new normalcy) looks to be on the horizon. It’s likely that consumption of video will decline from the high it saw last year, but with all of the uncertainty the year brought, 2020 did confirm once again that consumers enjoy strong programming, care about their communities, and content continues to reign supreme. Consumers of all ages showed their eagerness to seek out quality programming, and pay for it, no matter the source. As we continue into 2021, advertisers should lean further into the additional avenues to reach these consumers. They have shown, regardless of age, their willingness to try new things, and advertisers should as well.