With the UK in lockdown, many are looking to in-home entertainment to help them pass the time. Data from the latest wave of our syndicated research tracker ScreenThink, collected in Winter 2019, alongside industry data, suggest some interesting changes in TV viewing behaviour that may continue beyond the outbreak.

A look at the TV landscape before the lockdown

Source: MTM ScreenThink H2 2019

As shown in the chart above taken from the ScreenThink H2 2019 report, live TV continues to be the first point of call when viewers are looking for something to watch. However, for an increasing amount of people, just under a third of the online population at the end of last year, it is video on demand (VOD) services that are front of mind. We can see this pattern trending over time, as less and less turn to live TV first and VOD services increase in importance for many viewers.

What impact can we already see from COVID-19 on viewership?

Recent upheavals in lifestyle due to COVID-19 has meant that two weeks after lockdown began, TV viewing in the UK was up by 32% year on year. When asked what type of media content they had been consuming more of, a similar amount of consumers answered online videos (30%) and TV streaming (30%), as broadcast TV (34%), signalling that VOD services are just as important to viewers during this time as live TV.

Since the outbreak, viewers are also more willing to pay for subscriptions to VOD services. 14% of UK consumers not currently subscribed to Netflix are now considering purchasing it (up from 5% pre-COVID-19, as found in ScreenThink H2 2019), and 10% for Amazon Prime Video (up from 7%).  

Enter Disney+

One of the latest SVOD services to shake up the market, Disney+, launched in the UK at the perfect time for parents juggling childcare with working from home while schools are closed. For many, the £5.99 subscription fee will be the cheapest babysitter they’ve ever had!

In the UK, consumers are just as likely to consider purchasing newcomer, Disney+ (15%), as they are the current market leader, Netflix (14%), during lockdown. Those from higher income groups are considerably more likely to consider Disney+ than lower income groups, a difference likely to be driven by the fact that Disney+ has joined the SVOD market most recently, so for many it will be an addition to other subscriptions. This is illustrated in the chart below, taken from the ScreenThink H2 2019 report, which found that 8 in 10 of those intending to sign up to Disney+ are already using at least one other SVOD service.

Source: MTM ScreenThink H2 2019

What trends can we expect to continue post-COVID-19?

Looking to the future, there is data to suggest that COVID-19 will have an impact on viewing behaviour beyond lockdown. Over two thirds of UK/US consumers claim that not only are they currently watching more of both streamed TV/films and live TV, but plan to continue doing so after the outbreak. The media type that could see the most change is online videos, including YouTube and TikTok, for which almost three quarters of those surveyed planned to continue watching more of post-lockdown. This data suggests there could be an acceleration of a trend we have already seen progressing, where broadcast TV decreases in importance making room for the increasing usage of online streaming and video.

Our newly launched ScreenThink forecasting tool provides a further indication of future consumer behaviour. Developed to predict subscription levels alongside our tracker, we have added an additional scenario to indicate the changes in the direction of the SVOD and pay-TV landscape taking into account COVID-19, driven by a weaker level of consumer confidence to pay extra for premium set top boxes and a stronger demand for the majority of SVOD services. As a result, we expect pay-TV to perform worse in the next 18 months, with Sky and Virgin Media losing an additional 1.5% of customers within that period, before returning to pre-COVID performance. Netflix and Amazon are forecast to outperform our pre-COVID growth rates, but Now TV is expected to show a severe short term loss due to limited live sport content with an additional 15% customer churn in H1 2020, before bouncing back in H2 when sport is (hopefully) back on.

As tracked through our ScreenThink data, the attention of viewers in increasingly moving away from live TV and towards the growing market of SVOD services and online video platforms. With COVID-19 causing major disruption to people’s lifestyles, it is unsurprising that viewing habits have changed substantially and we will be looking to future waves of ScreenThink to reveal how these emerging trends are cementing themselves once life goes back to normal.