There is nary an industry that has not seen the all-encompassing impact of COVID-19. Streaming and social media among them. Both have experienced colossal peaks and treacherous valleys in the first half of 2020. The year has also been marked by significant decline in global advertising demand, the ascendance of smart TVs, the continued market share dominance of connected TV devices like Roku and Fire TV, and the changing ways viewers are connecting with social platforms. In addition, new areas explored in this report include a six-month view of growth in time spent streaming as impacted by COVID-19, expanded regional benchmarks including South America, YouTube device viewership breakdown, and how professional sports teams are socializing sports with no sports.
- Global time spent streaming surged 63% year over year as April posted a banner month, up 81%, while May and June clocked more modest increases of 58% and 49% respectively as national shelter-in-place mandates relaxed.
- Global ad demand was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with the lack of live sports, which caused ad attempts to plummet 28% in a single quarter, comparing Q2 to Q1 2020. The United States fared slightly better, but advertising still dipped 22% over the same time period in that region.
- The smart TV category enjoyed a 239% surge in viewing time as more viewers were watching natively within their smart TVs. In turn, global share of smart TV viewing more than doubled, from 7% in Q2 2019 to 15% in Q2 2020.
- Connected TV devices, headlined by Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast, dominated streaming viewership with a 61% spike to maintain nearly 50% share of global viewing time in Q2. The leaders in the category, Roku and Fire TV, remained neck and neck in growth, each up 63%, with 49% and 29% respective share of the category.
- Television now accounts for more than a quarter of all viewing time on YouTube. While mobile YouTube viewing remains robust with 59% share, the draw of the big screen led viewing on connected TVs and consoles to grow to 27% share in Q2 2020 from 16% the prior Q2, a 69% increase.
- European professional sports played much better than their North American counterparts in the first half of 2020. As sports returned to Europe, social engagements increased by 64% in June as compared to their 2020 low in April. Conversely, social engagements for North American professional sports bottomed out with their year low in June, down more than 71% from January, with the return of NBA and MLB slated for late July.
- A notable bright spot for North American leagues on social media was the NFL Draft in late April, as the NFL teams surpassed NBA teams in total engagements for the only time during the year.
- Streaming further harnessed the power of social media as streaming TV social accounts outpaced traditional TV network accounts in audience growth by double digits across all social platforms, with 101% growth on Instagram and 72% on YouTube year over year.
- Globally, buffering improved 28%, picture quality, as measured by bitrate, improved 33%, and video start failures improved 27%, as compared to Q2 2019.
- Europe led the world in growth for time spent streaming, up a staggering 174% in April alone and 134% in Q2 overall, and also in quality improvements with 29% less time spent waiting for buffering, 38% better picture quality, and 39% less video start failures.
Global streaming viewership largely charted nations’ shelter-in-place mandates and the ensuing gradual loosening in the first half of 2020. Viewership fell back down to Earth toward the end of Q2 after a meteoric rise in April, led by in-home viewing due to shelter-in-place orders. Time spent streaming in Q2 spiked 63% year over year globally, with growth led by Europe, up 134%. North America also posted impressive growth for a more saturated market, up 57% in Q2, while South America and Africa each posted respectable increases, up 35% and 30% respectively. Meanwhile, Asia trailed with nominal growth of just 2% for the quarter.
Delving deeper into Q2 trends, after April’s banner viewership month (up 81% over the previous year), May and June clocked more modest increases of 58% and 49% respectively. The uptick in viewing time was led by Europe which tallied a 174% increase year over year in April and remained robust throughout Q2, with June still ascending 122% from June 2019. In nearly all regions, April represented the peak of streaming growth, in accordance with many shelter-in-place orders across the globe. In April, viewers spent 73% more time streaming in North America, 45% more in Africa, 38% more in South America, and 12% more in Asia as compared to the previous April. These statistics have since normalized, with global year-over-year gains falling to the lowest of 2020 during the month of June as globally time spent streaming rose 49% year over year.
Demanding Ad Demand
Ad demand was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in Q2, particularly with the lack of live sports. This dearth of games helped cause global ad attempts to plummet 28% in a single quarter comparing Q2 to Q1 2020. The United States fared slightly better, but advertising still ebbed 22% over the same time period in that region. Recent launches of subscription-based services may have drawn eyeballs from hybrid and wholly ad-supported services in Q2, but we expect this will also revert to the norm as sports return and recession-conscious viewers increasingly guard their purse strings.
On the quality front, streaming publishers and the ad ecosystem made considerable progress in delivering higher quality advertising to viewers. Ad start times improved so that viewers spent 9% less time waiting for the ad to start in Q2 as compared to Q1 2020. Consequently, viewer-initiated exits before ad started dropped 14%
in the same time period. In Q2, ad buffering improved marginally, down 3% while ad picture quality improved significantly, with bitrate up 53%. Higher bitrate is often driven by increased consumption on large screens, as bitrate is significantly higher on these devices. Q2 brought a 12% increase in ad impressions served on connected TVs and a 12% drop in ad impressions on desktop and mobile.
Even with improvements in quality, streaming advertising still struggled with missed ad opportunities. Although slightly improved from 46.3% in Q1, nearly 45% of ad opportunities were not capitalized upon in Q2. The most common issue continued to be the lack of ad demand leading to wrapper and VAST errors as publishers tried to fill ad slots, but no ads were available. These errors adversely affected the experience as viewers often faced a lag in waiting for multiple requests that ultimately went unfilled. As viewing increases, advertisers and the streaming industry need to better deliver successful ad opportunities.
Viewing at Your Leisure
Typically, the largest viewership peaks each quarter are driven by live events like sports or can’t-miss television that compels viewers to tune in all at once. Even as the shelter-in-place orders around the world drove time spent streaming higher than ever, peak viewership did not surpass 2019’s heights in Q2. Between the lack of live sports and viewers watching at their leisure, on their own time rather than a prescribed schedule, viewership was more balanced throughout the day with less large spikes. Comparatively, in Q2 2019 peak viewership broke records
four times over, coinciding with the final season of a dramatic series that was truly a can’t-miss, global cultural phenomenon.
Big Screen Reigns Supreme
As viewers were relegated to their homes for much of Q2, it was televisions that commanded their attention. The smart TV category experienced a 239% increase in viewing time as more viewers watched natively within their smart TVs. This large increase drove global share of viewing via smart TV to more than double, from 7% in Q2 2019 to 15% in Q2 2020.
Connected TV devices like Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast, among others, garnered a 61% increase and maintained nearly 50% share of global viewing time in Q2. Tablets, like Amazon Fire Tablet, Android Tablet, and Apple iPad, and gaming consoles, like Xbox and PlayStation, also maintained their share of year-over- year viewing. Tablets netted a 66% increase year over year, to maintain a modest 5% share, and gaming consoles recorded a 55% increase year over year to keep 11% share of global viewing.
On the other side, mobile, up 22%, and desktop, up 17% in year-over-year viewing time both declined in overall share as increasingly home-bound viewers opted for TVs rather than smaller screens. Mobile viewing time declined from 13% share to 10%, while desktop dropped to 10% from 14% the Q2 prior.
In Q2, the preferred device type for streaming varied by continent. The TV category continued to dominate in South America with 40% share of time spent viewing. Connected TV devices owned the largest share of devices in both North America, capturing 56% of viewing, and in Europe, with 32%. In Asia and Africa, desktop computers remained the primary streaming device with 49% and 43% of viewing in those respective regions.
YouTube and TV
It’s intuitive that mobile consumption dominates YouTube viewing and Google stated recently that 75% of US adults watch YouTube videos in their homes on their mobile devices. Among 500 YouTube accounts primarily encompassing brands, sports, entertainment, and media organizations, 59% of YouTube viewing happened on a mobile device in Q2 2020. That number represents a significant fall from the stranglehold 67% share mobile tallied in Q2 the previous year.
As seen across all streaming, viewers are increasingly opting for the big screen for YouTube. While mobile viewing remains strong, the draw of the big screen spurred share of YouTube viewing on connected TVs and consoles to grow from 16% to 27%, a 69% increase. TV now accounts for more than a quarter of all viewing time on YouTube.
Google recently reported that more than 100 million people watch YouTube or YouTube TV on a television, often consuming recent content as 60% of viewers who signed into YouTube on a television watched a video published in the last 7 days. In a world that is gravitating back towards the television as the primary source of entertainment inside a home, this shift in consumer behavior demonstrates that social platforms embracing long-form content can have a seat at the table (or couch as it were).
How Do You Connect Your TV?
Roku remained the market leader among connected TV devices, capturing half of the total viewing time in Q2 2020. Amazon Fire TV finished a distant second with 29%, followed by Apple TV with 8.7%, Chromecast with 7.3%, Android TV with 3.6%, and Humax with 1.3% in the next tier. Connected TV devices with lower adoption include Sky Q, Sagemcom, Xfinity X1, CanalPlus, TiVo, Enseo, YouView, Netgem, and Huawei, each of which captured less than 1% of overall viewing time in the connected TV device category.
Among smart TVs, Samsung is the clear leader, owning half of all viewing time via a smart TV in Q2 2020. Samsung was followed by LG TVs with 23% of viewing time in the category, Vizio TVs with 11%, Android TVs with 8%, and Amazon Fire TVs with 7%. Chromecast, Sony, Philips, and Panasonic all tallied less than 1% of smart TV viewing in Q2 this year.
PlayStation and Xbox went head to head streaming in the gaming consoles category, PlayStation slightly edged out Xbox with a hair over 50% of viewing time to Xbox’s 47% in Q2 2020.
How Half of Viewers are Streaming
Connected TV devices offer the highest quality streaming of any device. It’s no wonder the category grew 61% year over year to command nearly 50% of all viewing time in Q2, as viewers voted with their eyeballs. Connected TV devices also continue to improve in quality, and Q2 was no exception, with a 31% boost in picture quality, 20% decline in failures, 16% less time waiting for buffering, and 5% shorter video start times.
The leaders in the connected TV category, Roku and Fire TV, remained neck and neck in growth, each up 63% in time spent viewing via these devices, while Chromecast grew 41% and Apple TV 22% year over year.
Chromecast captured the highest minutes per play in Q2, averaging 31.4 minutes, up 2% from the previous year. Apple TV continued to impress with quality, especially in the buffering category, with a 27% improvement year over year to bring buffering down to a nominal 0.12%, the lowest among connected TV devices. Apple TV has
also enjoyed multiple quarters as a leader in picture quality and start time, with bitrate up 17% year over year to 8.09Mbps in Q2, and a video start time of 2.73 which led the category, despite worsening 16% year over year in this metric.
The industry’s innovation and dedication to quality were evidenced in Q2 with improvements achieved nearly across the board. Even as viewing skyrocketed, buffering, picture quality, and video start failures all bettered globally and across every single region year over year in Q2. Globally, buffering improved 28%, picture quality, as measured by bitrate, rose 33%, and video start failures fell 27%, as compared to the previous Q2.
Europe’s progress was particularly impressive, leading the world in progress in buffering with 29% less time spent waiting, picture quality with 38% uptick, and video start failures with 39% fewer failures. Video start time was the only quality metric to see mixed results as Africa and South America netted improvements while other regions declined. This shift to longer start times is likely most reflective of the increased start times that are typical for television devices, which grew rapidly over the past year.
With higher quality, viewers tend to stay tuned in for a longer time and Q2 was no exception. Minutes per play increased in Q2 across all regions, up 7% globally to 20.9 minutes, with growth led by South America, up 46% to 19.5 minutes. Europe and North America also made significant strides and commanded the longest watch times with 23.3 and 21.7 minutes per play respectively in Q2.
Socializing Sports with No Sports
As European leagues started their seasons and North American leagues moved forward with plans to start, a striking divergence can be seen between the social performance of professional sports in these two regions.
In terms of videos posted during 2020, European teams from Bundesliga, La Liga, Premier League, and Serie A were able to preserve a very consistent level of video content until May and June when all four leagues began operations again. In North America, where COVID-19 continued to delay the return of sports leagues, videos posted has dropped dramatically since the beginning of 2020. While the teams from the European leagues posted close to the same amount of video content as they did in January, North American teams posted 66% less content in June than January and a 55% decrease from April to June.
A comparison of all posts yields similar results, with the promise of a quick bounce back once leagues restart. Post volume for European teams hit a low in April, down 40%, the month before Bundesliga became the first sports league to return. While total post volume still decreased 11% compared to January for European leagues, this still is on an upward trend. With the NHL, NBA, MLB, and MLS currently scheduled to return in July, if the European trends are modeled it will take at least two months before they are back to similar posting cadence.
While post volume may return within two months, engagement may take longer to recover. In considering
the total engagements for each team in the league through the beginning of the year, total engagements for European teams sank 20% in June compared to January. Engagements for European teams are trending upwards showing a 64% increase in June compared to their low in April. The difference is more pronounced for professional teams in North America. Total engagements from all teams decreased by 71% from January to June, suggesting that the North American teams have a lot more ground to make up than their colleagues across the pond.
A notable bright spot for North American leagues was the NFL Draft in late April. During the three-day event, NFL teams surpassed the NBA teams in total engagements for the only time during the year, despite the NFL’s January and February playoffs. From March to April, the NFL increased their total engagements by 129% during a time when all other leagues saw significant decreases.
With numerous health procedures, social bubbles, and hoops to jump through in order for sports to return to the “new normal” within North America, it’s unlikely that North American teams will see engagement levels similar to Q1 before September.
Full Stream Ahead on Social
Streaming TV platforms are investing heavily into social. It’s hard to log onto any social platform and not immediately be served an advertisement or piece of organic content from one of the many streaming platforms vying for attention. While social media was previously used by TV networks to raise awareness for new shows and content, its importance has grown as it becomes a primary conversion point for new subscribers.
Facebook remained in control of the largest audience share for both TV networks and streaming TV accounts with a 45% and 63% share respectively. Despite Facebook’s majority share of audience, Instagram accounted for the largest percentage of total engagements for both categories. Interestingly, streaming TV Twitter accounts comprised a greater share of engagements compared to TV networks, 10% vs 6%, despite having 9% less share of total audience.
Additional evidence that streaming TV platforms are investing into social is shown by the year-over-year audience growth as compared to TV network averages. On all platforms, streaming TV accounts outpaced TV networks by double digits with Instagram taking the lead with 101% year-over-year audience growth in Q2, followed by YouTube at 72%, Twitter at 62%, and Facebook at 21%.
While the world faces uncertainty, one thing is for certain: streaming and social media are at the forefront of innovation at a time when viewers are starved for entertainment. We saw when staying home meant tuning in to stream and checking in on social—to get informed, pass the time, and stay connected. We saw when a dearth
of sports was threatening not only leagues and teams on social media, but rightsholders and publishers relying on streaming advertising. We saw how advertising for streaming just didn’t work, with quality issues as well as ad loads and irrelevant ads that turned viewers away. And we will be watching for the next chapter as new services gain their footholds, people increasingly return to their daily lives, sports leagues return with empty stadiums but hungry fans, and streaming advertising comes into its own. 2020 has been full of surprises, certainly with more to come.
Data for Conviva’s State of Streaming report was primarily collected from Conviva’s proprietary sensor technology currently embedded in three billion streaming video applications, measuring in excess of 500 million unique viewers watching 150 billion streams per year with 1.5 trillion real-time transactions per day across
more than 180 countries. Year-over-year comparisons were normalized at the customer level for accurate representations of industry growth. The social data is comprised of data from over 1200 accounts, over 5 million posts, and over 7 billion engagements across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.