TV Habits Are Changing: How Creators and OTTs Can Play Offense, Not Defense

Now that windowing is broken, there has never been more fertile ground for experimenting with new formats, provided you know a few new basics

The new TV lover is a cross-platform epicure. Everyone knows that, but what does that mean?

For content owners and OTT services, monitoring change is critical to monetizing business models while optimizing for tomorrow. Who watches TV on phones, and what content is suited for smaller screens?

Now that windowing is broken, there has never been more fertile ground for experimenting with new formats, provided you know a few new basics:

Streaming digital video on TV is a daily habit.

Generation Z—growing up with no prior knowledge of a life before WiFi—lacks a fundamental understanding about how classic TV works. Why wouldn’t they be able to watch what they want, when they want it?

This is due not just to internet access but to the changing habits of parents. 56% of U.S. online adults stream digital content on a smart TV (per the IAB). Linear TV’s momentum is slowing, with a net -9 percent momentum versus last year.

Smart TV use is rising: 22% of users "only or mostly" use it to stream digital video, an 11% increase from 2015.

Screen size preference is generational.

Younger audiences grew up with screens of all sizes, so they’re more inclined to watch content via mobile. Consider the freedom this provides: Instead of being captive to whatever dad wants to watch, mom can watch something on a tablet and the children can watch on phones. They don’t even need to be in the same room!

Content varies by screen type.

It’s hard to watch a feature-length film or a long show, like Mad Men, from a small screen. Shorter clips—like on Snapchat—are more amenable to mobile devices, as are certain half-hour shows that can be consumed without deep attention, like The Big Bang Theory.

Two exceptions are live-action sports (including the Olympic Games) and esports (electronic sports). Because both formats involve casters describing the action, and the most critical aspect is scoring, they’re multi-platform friendly (consider the relationship between sports and radio).

Sports are increasingly consumed via mobile. Esports, born digital, is consumed on live-streaming platforms like Twitch, making it a natural mobile fit.

Consider this when contemplating your content strategy. If your service is geared to younger viewers, think from a mobile perspective.

If you’re talking to millennials, who are getting older, think in terms of tablets or smart TVs. Netflix is available for download on smart TVs, making streaming simpler from the couch. Some providers let users launch YouTube videos from their phones to the big screen, provided both devices share a WiFi connection.

Primetime is device-specific.

“The death of TV” actually represents the death of linear. “Primetime” is now a device-specific phenomenon, as Ampere points out. TV sets are the primary devices for show-viewing in general, but it’s worth considering the “mini primetimes” other devices afford.

Smartphone use rises rapidly in the morning, with its own personal “primetime” … at lunch. As the afternoon advances, TVs and OTT use rises.

What about binge-viewing?

Bingeing is often genre-specific, with horror, thrillers and sci-fi (Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead) consumed fastest.

Dramatic comedies, crime and superhero shows take more time, with users watching up to two hours in one sitting.

Other content is consumed more slowly, yielding less than two hours of enjoyment—political and historical dramas, and irreverent comedies.

Consider cross-device use.

Cross-device use is generational. The older people are, the more likely they’re watching TV passively. Younger people will engage in 2-3 parallel activities while viewing.

Thus younger content is more social media-amenable. 13 Reasons Why was the most-tweeted show this year. Its subject matter was a major discussion topic for younger audiences across devices, likely while watching.

Availability varies by pricepoint.

Be flexible in how you present and monetize content.

Some networks develop one app and recycle content across platforms. It’s more beneficial to consider not just diversifying content by device, but diversifying price points: You can charge more for a TV app versus a smartphone app, with content that speaks to both.

But how to keep people from leaving?

Conversion is critical to OTT, so onboarding must be intuitive. Also, ensure there are sufficient retention processes in place to avoid churn (payment breakage is the culprit behind over 50% of churn).

Make onboarding fast and device-switching seamless. With more choice comes less patience for issues like multiple sign-ons and card failures. It represents time lost.

But the great news about our proliferation of options is that it doesn’t represent the “death” of anything (except linear). It means we have to look more closely at what people want, when…and why. With this in hand, so much more becomes possible than we imagined in linear TV land.