Types of Content and Genres Viewed by Americans During Coronavirus

Over the past few weeks, Invoke has been conducting a series of Pulse studies to gauge the changes around content consumption that are the result of the pandemic. A Pulse is a short version of our online qual/quant platform. We use Pulses in a several ways:

  1. To monitor an attribute after conducting a foundational study.
  2. To quickly get deep answers to a focused question.
  3. To conduct longitudinal studies.

For this project, we wanted to measure ongoing variances in content consumption and to learn how COVID-19 is affecting behaviors related to content. We spoke to ~100 Americans, aged 18-54 in each Pulse, and released our insights on an ongoing basis. If you would like a detailed look at what we learned in each Pulse, you can download the reports.

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Generally speaking, there is no doubt that life has changed for every American over the past couple of months. The extent to which it changed varies from person to person, but one thing is certain: Americans are watching much more content than they did before.

Overall, 72% of Americans say they watch more content than before the pandemic. Interestingly, we found that the younger the person is – the more likely they are to report watching more content:

I'm watching more content than I did before the virus hit. Under 25 years old: 82%; 26-35 years old: 73%; 36 and older: 66%
Q) How has the amount of content you are watching changed since the Pandemic started in the US? Are you…?

Those aged 36+ are ~10% more likely to have children, reducing their free time compared to younger Americans.

So why are Americans watching so much more content than before?
The 3 most common reasons our respondents have shared with us as the Pandemic unfolded are:

1. They have more free time:

“With all the time I have, I can finally catch up on my favorite TV shows like Major Crimes and NCIS. I can also spend time with my friends playing video games or watching movies online together.” (Male, 19, CA)

2. To combat loneliness:

“I think that having the TV going is often a way to avoid loneliness during the isolation, as well as being entertained. I also find myself looking for more nostalgic things.” (Female, 34, IL)

3. To escape their current reality:

“I try to find a balance between the news and what is going on in the world and shows that are a form of escapism. Sometimes I want to forget about everything that is happening and just get lost in a show.” (Female, 40, PA)

Another angle to the amount of content Americans are consuming is how it is being used by families. Americans of all ages are spending most of their time at home and are unable to carry out other activities they would normally do to spend quality time with their families. Watching content together serves as a family activity. Content is also being used as an educational tool, where families watch documentaries and educational content on their own accord or by teachers’ recommendation.

“We also watch more family and educational items to help the children relax and be with family in a calming environment and keep up with education.” (Female, 27, TX)

So, we know that Americans are watching content in record rates. But what are they watching? We learned that Americans are consuming more “old” content as well as more brand-new content. The catalyst leading to watching each type of content is different and deeply rooted in how Americans use content to self-sooth.
Americans report re-watching “old” content since its comforting to them, almost like spending time with an old friend. Since it doesn’t require as much concentration or attention to enjoy as new content does, many have it playing in the background while performing other tasks.
With so much free time on their hands, some are watching “old” content that they never had a chance to watch before and are discovering new “old” favorites.

“Since I have been home more and the TV is on longer hours, I tend to choose reruns of favorite shows on my DVR such as Modern Family, Northwood Law, or Parking Wars to serve as background noise and company. I can be entertained but not need to focus like I do on first run shows.” (Male, 54, MN)

“I have been binging shows that I haven’t watched in years, or new shows that I haven’t had time to watch.” (Female, 52, MD)

There is also great demand for new content. Americans report watching more new content and are eagerly searching for something new to excite them and to help them forget their current reality. Many say they are being less picky when choosing what to watch and are trying out content they would pass on before they had extra free time.

“I am more willing to watch something that I may not have watched before. That is mainly because of the amount of time that I have available to watch tv.” (Male, 45, KS)

“I am rewatching some shows I like and looking forward to weekly releases way more! The pandemic has made me very depressed because I lost work, and I have to admit that my streaming services have helped me.” (Female, 34, IL)

Knowing that Americans are watching both old and new content, we looked deeper into which content genres they are watching:

Type of Content Watching
Q) Which of the following types of content are you watching most?

The overall results are not especially surprising. Most Americans enjoy watching dramas, thrillers, comedies, and action. However, we saw something interesting when we looked at the results by gender:

Type of Content Watching by Gender
Q) Which of the following types of content are you watching most?

While more men report watching action and adventure content, women watch dramas, thrillers, and comedies. Both genders watch a similar amount of news and reality.

We then looked to see how viewing habits related to specific genres were affected by the pandemic:

Change in Type of Content Consumed
Q) How has the TYPE of content you are watching changed since the Pandemic started in the US?

We are seeing a few interesting things in the table above. First, everyone is consuming more news. Americans are consuming more news because they use it as an educational tool to stay informed about the latest developments related to the pandemic.

“I watch the news more, so that I can keep up with the current numbers in my local area and around the world.” (Female, 35, MI)

We are also seeing that 32% of Americans watch more comedies and sitcoms. Not surprisingly, they watch lighthearted content that makes them laugh and improve their mood.

“The type of shows I watch have changed. Gone are thought provoking dramas or anything scary. I’m watching fluff to keep my sanity. There’s too much anxiety to watch shows that add more. I’d rather watch sitcoms or reality shows that don’t make me worry more about the state of the world.” (Female, 32, TX)

“I like to watch more comedies now because of this. It’s very important to be positive and have a good laugh.” (Male, 23, IN)

31% of Americans are watching more documentaries and educational content. Some watch it because they find it relaxing and some are just seeking to expand their knowledge while they are sitting at home.

“I am drawn right now to either documentaries (fact/info based) or series – I don’t want to watch anything that creates too much emotion right now like a horror or thriller. I need programs that are a bit sobering or funny/entertaining” (Female, 44, NY)

Americans are using content to help regulate how they feel during these stressful times. Content is viewed as an essential tool for their mental health and ability to remain under lockdown for such an extended period of time. We are seeing that Americans are using diverse genres of content to address different emotional needs the pandemic is causing.

While we continue to watch how Americans are consuming content, please make sure to check out our infographics and reports that explore this subject in detail:

Week 1: Perceptions and Effects of Covid-19 as it Relates to Media Consumption

Week 2: Media Consumption in the Time of Social Distancing

Week 3: How Cable Compares with Streaming During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Week 4: Spending on Content During Covid-19

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