Analysis: People Are Streaming More, But Will It Stick?

April 30, 2020 at 12:01 am ET
  • Nearly half of consumers (49%) say they are streaming more since the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • 21% of adults report subscribing to a new streaming service since the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • New subscribers are predominantly flocking to a few streaming providers in particular: Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video accounted for about a quarter of the new subscriptions.

Morning Consult’s “Favorited or Forgotten” series explores if – and how – consumer behavior will change in a post-COVID-19 world and what business leaders can do to prepare for those changes. Sign up here to receive the latest in your inbox each week.

This analysis was authored by Morning Consult analyst Victoria Sakal.

Streaming video is clearly having a moment during the coronavirus crisis: Nearly half (49 percent) of the 2,200 adults in an April 16-18 survey say they are now streaming more. Clear differences in the frequency of streaming appear across generations, education levels and income lines, as well as across the communities in which subscribers reside. 

Much of the increased usage is likely to be short-lived: Prior research shows that most adults (66 percent) say they’re streaming more now because this is something they always do during more normal times, and 51 percent of those streaming more now, for whatever reason, expect to revert to pre-pandemic streaming levels once the crisis is over. But at a time when much of America is stuck at home and as such embracing streaming as a new pastime, it’s also important to consider adults who’ve newly subscribed to streaming services and the nature of their post-pandemic streaming activity.

Twenty-one percent of adults report subscribing to a new streaming service since the COVID-19 outbreak, but again, clear demographic differences exist:

  • Younger generations are much more likely than older ones to have subscribed to a new service.
  • Those with higher levels of education and higher incomes have subscribed to new services more than their less-educated and lower-income peers.
  • More urban dwellers and those in the West have subscribed to new services more than other regions, likely reflecting the inability to resort to usual pastimes like going out in their city or spending time outside.

New subscribers have predominantly flocked to a few streaming providers in particular: About a quarter or more of new subscriptions were with Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

Netflix and Amazon Prime Video lead in paid subscriptions. But new subscribers to smaller streaming services are more likely to access those services via a free trial.

Credit: Sarah Shevenock/Morning Consult

New subscribers are also watching Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV and Amazon Prime Video most frequently, while a near-quarter of those newly subscribed to Apple TV+ (23 percent) and HBO Now (22 percent) are infrequently or rarely watching those platforms.

Given the known importance of frequent usage for driving adoption, loyalty and ultimately retention in the streaming world, services that are being watched less frequently have reason for concern — especially given the high proportion of free trial users among their new customers.

With nearly half of new streaming subscribers choosing Netflix, the majority of those new subscriptions being paid, and the vast majority of new users watching the platform very frequently, it’s no surprise that the company has seen positive market performance and reported such strong earnings last week.

But what happens post-pandemic, when stay-at-home and self-quarantining measures subside?

It appears that Netflix has little to worry about. While smaller services like YouTube TV and Apple TV+ – which new subscribers are accessing more via free trial as they are via paid subscriptions, and which new subscribers are watching less frequently – are most likely to see subscriptions canceled, 80 percent of Netflix’s new subscribers plan to watch at least as much Netflix as they are now – if not more. 

Still, with 78 percent of Disney+’s new subscribers and 75 percent or more of Hulu’s and Amazon Prime Video’s new subscribers planning to watch at least as much, if not more, of those services post-pandemic, it’s clear that Netflix’s battle to win the streaming wars may not yet be over.

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