In an effort to keep Simulmedia’s clients and partners informed on the latest changes in the linear TV advertising marketplace, we are publishing weekly updates on how TV viewing habits have been changing in the United States over the previous several weeks, a viewing period heavily influenced by Covid-19. This report includes TV viewing data through Sunday, May 31.
Below we offer a visualization showing overall linear TV viewership over time (starting in February). The headlines for this week:
- Overall viewing increased significantly starting in mid-March and has nearly returned to the levels seen during the period prior to pandemic-related restrictions.
- We believe this decline in TV viewing through the end of Q1 and into Q2 has two significant components: a seasonal decline that we observe in recent years (and likely every year) that is associated with the arrival of warmer weather that draws more people out of their homes, and an economy that is reopening, drawing people away from their homes in greater numbers and for longer periods of time.
- A sharp decline in year-over-year viewership losses also suggests that linear TV has been able to hold onto some of its pandemic-induced gains.
- News viewership increased significantly, almost certainly in response to coverage of the tragic murder of George Floyd and the protests that have followed.
Let’s get started.
TV Viewing Decreases: Part Re-opening, Part Cord Cutting, Part Seasonal Effect
While this return to pre-pandemic levels can be explained in part by the tapered reopening of the economy, people starting to venture out of their homes, and cord shaving/cord cutting, there’s a seasonal effect at work, too, one that is easily seen in previous years. Historically, TV viewing decreases as summer approaches.
The following graphs show overall TV viewing during the period that goes from the 12th to the 21st week of the year (mid-March to the end of May) for the past five years. The percentages next to the year indicate the maximum drop during this period.
We wondered whether TV has been able to retain some of its increase in viewership, relative to previous years, as we head into a period of seasonal declines. To evaluate this, we looked at the sum of the daily impressions captured over the course of the 21st week of each year from 2016-2020. Then, we compared how this sum changed, year-over-year. Here’s what we found:
- 2016: The sum of the daily impressions recorded in the 21st week was about 10.2 billion.
- 2017: Sum was about 9.6 billion - a 5.3% decline compared to 2016.
- 2018: Sum was about 9.5 billion - a 1.5% decline compared to 2017.
- 2019: Sum was about 8.5 billion - a 10% decline compared to 2018.
- 2020: Sum was 8.47 billion - a 0.8% decline compared to 2019.
In other words, after three consecutive years of declines for the week, week 21 in 2020 was practically flat, relative to 2019. If the average rate of change over the previous three years (-5.63%) had been observed this year, we’d expect the 21st week of 2020 to feature about 8.06 billion impressions. The 410 million more actual impressions observed in the 21st week of 2020, compared to what historical trends would have predicted, suggests that TV has been able to retain a significant number of the viewers who have tuned into linear TV in droves since the start of the pandemic.
TV Viewing Trends: A Near Return To Pre-Pandemic Levels
Week-over-week, overall TV viewing increased by 2.7%, mostly due to a staggering 18.7% increase in News viewing. This increase is likely due to people watching the latest developments stemming from nation-wide protests that have been taking place. Entertainment and Sports networks viewing increases also contributed to the overall jump in viewing.
Interestingly, when we compared year-over-year changes in viewership during peak pandemic, we see a surge in weekend viewing in 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. We believe that’s because there is a dearth of entertainment options. That means that television viewing is one of the few alternatives that people can enjoy especially at night and on weekends, when they otherwise would have been at theaters, nightclubs, restaurants, bars, stadiums and arenas. We will continue to assess this to see if linear TV can sustain its evening and weekend viewing increases.
As many seasoned marketers know, growing share is a lot easier to do during down markets. We are in just such a time. Coupled with market-wide declines in linear TV ad inventory pricing, its proven superior value, and its massive reach and impression scale advantage, relative to streaming/ad supported video on demand (AVOD), TV’s massive increase in viewing represents an historic buying opportunity for advertisers who want to increase share of voice, a leading indicator of market share, more efficiently than has been possible in many years.
Scroll below to our network drop-down and pick any network to see how viewing has changed over time.
Zooming in further, we can look at the change in viewership among specific networks representing different programming types, where some of these trends become even more evident.
This drop-down will allow you to summon a chart for every network that shows impressions at the hour level, for four weeks, one week at the time. The darker and stronger the line, the more recent the week: that way, one is able to superimpose and compare the most recent week to the previous ones.
Full Network List
Below you can find a list of all Nielsen rated networks and their week over week trends for the past four weeks. The table contains average daily impressions, as well as week-over-week variations in total impression amounts.
- W1: 5/4 - 5/10
- W2: 5/11 - 5/17
- W3: 5/18 - 5/24
- W4: 5/25 - 5/31
We are Simulmedia, a NY-based platform that helps marketers use TV advertising to create more customers. Simulmedia is the only end-to-end TV ad platform that can deliver scaled performance across national linear TV with the speed and precision of digital.
We’re sifting through changes in TV viewing with the most recent data available and want to make sure you’re getting the answers you need. What did you find most valuable? What other information would you like to see? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how we can make these weekly updates as useful as possible.
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