How the streaming boom has landed us back in the living room

Brian Albert / June 2020 / Video
A female presenting person with long curly black hair sits on a couch and syncs streaming video to a television with a remote control.

Brian Albert is Google’s managing director of agency and brand solutions in the U.S., leading teams that negotiate annual partnership deals with brands and agencies to help them plan and execute more effective video ads and content. Here he shares his perspective on navigating the video streaming boom.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about video: how advertisers can make the most of video platforms, what makes an effective video ad, and how behavioral shifts change the way people watch. From my perspective, we’re entering a clear third wave of viewership.

During the decades-long first wave, we all watched the same kinds of videos in the same places. We watched primetime TV, sports, the news, and our favorite shows on cable. Everyone watched at home on a TV screen. Then, in the past ten years or so, online platforms like YouTube took off, marking the second wave. Video went mobile. Mobile expanded where and when we could watch — during commutes, on a lunch break, in bed — and gave us new use cases for video, like making DIY projects, learning new skills, and connecting with passionate communities.

Now we’ve entered the streaming era, and ironically, it’s landed us back in the living room. People still watch a lot of mobile video, of course, but streaming video has taken off and enabled us to use TV screens again, in entirely new ways. Some of this growth is driven by the fact that so many more of us are at home these days, but it’s also become mainstream. Put another way, streaming was always the future — and the future is now.

How should video marketers respond to this third wave of viewership, given today’s fluid, dynamic market? As you’re reevaluating and adjusting your advertising strategy for the rest of the year and beyond, keep streaming services top of mind. These platforms are drawing increasingly massive audiences and will help you reach the types of viewers that traditional TV misses.

Here’s an in-depth look at why people are shifting to streaming video and how you can make the most of it.

The explosion of streaming on the TV screen, by the numbers

According to a recent Comscore report, 72% percent of households with wireless internet now stream video on their connected TV screens. So it is a truly massive market.

A TV with the YouTube logo on the screen. Over 100 million people watch YouTube and YouTube TV on their TV screens each month in the U.S.

Breaking it down by service, the four largest players, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, account for the lion’s share of watch time, more than 75%.1 Among ad-supported streaming services, Comscore ranks YouTube as the top platform for reach and share of watch time, more than the next three services combined.2 In total, over 100 million people watch YouTube and YouTube TV on their TV screens each month in the U.S.3 And as we’re all spending more time at home, this shift to the TV screen has amplified; overall watch time has jumped 80% year over year.4

Why streaming on TV screens is taking off

The hallmark of cable TV has been its hundreds of channels that indulge every interest, from mainstream to niche. To find out what sets streaming apart, we conducted in-depth interviews with dozens of people across the U.S. late last year.

Streaming democratizes content production and our ability to find and consume it.

What we learned was that streaming offers people three distinct benefits: access (the sheer volume of content available), control (the ability to find and discover exactly what you want), and relevance (fresh content that you need and love). In many ways, this is a technology story. Streaming democratizes content production and our ability to find and consume it. It gives us all the advantages of cable TV, but on our own terms.

A movie production slate with a red up-trending arrow. 800% increase in global watch time of both ad-supported and purchased feature-length movies in the past year.

The versatility of streaming video has contributed to increased viewership on TV screens. For example, global watch time of both ad-supported and purchased feature-length movies is up 800% year over year, and watch time for live content is up 250%.6 In the U.S. specifically, watch time on TV screens is up 350% for documentaries and 450% for news.7 In the past few months, we’ve also seen that content freshness — and creators’ ability to make videos that reflect our evolving circumstances — add to the appeal of streaming. Between mid-March and mid-April, 60% of viewers signed in to YouTube on TV screens watched a video published in the last 7 days.8

For video advertisers, this third wave of viewership can feel like it further fragments the audiences we’re all trying so hard to reach. But the streaming landscape is filled with opportunities to reach the audiences you care about. In a time when media spend needs to stretch farther than ever, ensuring that your advertising strategy reaches the audiences you care about in the places they are can help drive real results for your business.

The way people are watching video in the living room is changing. Here’s how