Youtube invades the Prime Time slot

A Google-commissioned study by Nielsen found that more adults watch YouTube on mobile than any other cable network alone during primetime. People watching on mobile are trading passive lean-back TV viewing for active lean-forward smartphone engagement.

YouTube is more popular than cable (0:27)

The Nielsen findings reveal two very interesting points which are worth exploring.

The first is that more adults are watching YouTube than any other cable network. The transition to online viewing has been happening for quite some time however it comes as a surprise that users find YouTube more appealing than any of the usual cable networks. YouTube has very little original programming or big-budget series. So, what are users watching?

According to the data, the top categories people watch are comedy, music, entertainment/pop, and “how to” videos. This type of content differs significantly from typical mainstream television, such as dramas, reality tv, and sports. Users seem to be preferring short comedy skits, music videos, celebrity interviews and educational videos. So why have viewers shifted their focus from the traditionally popular TV genres to YouTube shorts? The answer may lie in the device they are using, the smartphone.

Mobile viewing begets attention (1:25)

3-of-4 users watch YouTube on their mobile phone during primetime. While the popularity of YouTube might not be a surprise the way, people are watching it could be. Typically, at the end of a long workday, people slump on the couch and watch whatever takes their fancy on television. For many people, this behavior seems no longer to be the case. More users are pulling out their phones instead.

This new habit creates new viewing preferences. There are two modes in which we typically consume content: lean-forward mode, and lean-back mode.

Lean-back mode usually involves relaxing on a couch or lounge chair, passively watching video on a television screen. In this mode, we are not actively engaged with what we are watching. We are entertaining ourselves, relaxing, and killing time.

Lean-forward mode, however, involves exploring a passion, finding information about something or someone, or learning how to do something. In this mode, we are usually sitting upright and using our mobile phones. Users are more actively engaged in this circumstance. The study shows that “YouTube mobile users are 2x as likely to pay close attention while watching YouTube compared to TV users while watching TV.”

However, this begs the question: Why do consumers choose to be in lean-forward mode during primetime when they could be relaxing?

Is mobile taking over primetime? (2:50)

There could be many reasons for the move to watch on smartphones during primetime. Maybe the increase in mobile phone use has caused our habit to spill over into time usually spent relaxing. Maybe viewers enjoy an increase in attention and engagement. Maybe the content YouTube has is more appealing. Alternatively, maybe when users sit on the couch, they are simply too lazy to reach for the remote.

The specific reasons why we are spending primetime on our phones instead of the television are not clear. All we know is that we are.

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Prime-time is still king, however you watch

It’s becoming increasingly clear that, despite the fact we can watch anytime, we continue to gravitate to traditional prime-time hours. And that is regardless of the device we are using.

Data from comScore shows that however we watch video, the most frequent time for viewing is between 8 and 11PM each night. Television, of course, has lived by primetime for decades. However, it looks like the DVR was made for it. In the peak viewing hour, 9 to 10PM, 17% of household DVR viewing takes place. Both television and online viewing see a much smaller peak, about 8%, occurring in that hour.

The BBC confirms that the peak of on-demand viewing occurs at almost the same time as regular television viewing. At 9PM, TV viewing peaks with 27 million viewers. The peak in iPlayer usage occurred slightly earlier in February 2017. There were 763,000 iPlayer TV requests about an hour earlier than the TV. Unlike TV viewing, however, the peak in iPlayer requests is sustained much longer, through until about 10PM.

Incidentally, the BBC points out that the Internet peak, which includes all consumer usage, not just video, occurs at 4PM.

Viewing peaks at primetime through all devices

In the recent free nScreenMedia white paper The Secret Life of Streamers, new Conviva data reveals that primetime is peak viewing time regardless of the screen used. The two biggest screens, the connected TV and the PC, show the biggest peaks at 9PM each night. During that hour, connected TV video plays are 2.7 times higher than in the average hour. PC video plays are 1.7 times bigger than average hour plays.

The tablet and smartphone peaks are twice the average hour plays for each device.

This data reflects the very different usage patterns for each of the connected devices. The connected TV is a favored device for consumers to turn to when they want to enjoy their favorite shows on SVOD. For example, Netflix reports most of its viewing is on connected TVs. Whereas, the smartphone is used more consistently throughout day. When it comes to nighttime viewing, consumers turn to the biggest screen at their disposal to watch high value content.

One interesting thing to note about the PC is the peak in viewing that occurs around noon each day. This may suggest that a favorite lunchtime activity at work is catching up with a favorite show, or the latest YouTube video.

On-demand viewing, bigger screens preferred for prime-time

This data suggests two things:

On-demand platforms support and enhance the viewers desire to watch during prime-time
Viewers continue to gravitate to the biggest screen available between 8-11PM.

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