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Smart TVs Looking Even Smarter In Latest Pandemic Usage Study

Smart TVs were the big winners in terms of viewers’ favorite place to watch online video in 2020’s last quarter, according to a new study from streaming services provider Conviva.

The study, built around sensor data from about 500 million users worldwide, also looked at trends in online advertising, social video, connected-TV devices and much else. International markets, especially South America and Africa, boomed. And advertisers keep ignoring user preferences, running longer ads in the quarter.

In many ways, the study ratified findings from other reports tracking the rapid evolution in online video viewership and practices since the pandemic hit last spring, sending tens of millions of people home for lockdown with little to do but watch TV in all its varying business models and delivery mechanisms.

Streaming video continued to thrive as a result, with at least double-digit hikes in usage in every sector around the world, according to the report.

Streaming Video “Rocket”

“Overall streaming consumption has continued to rocket upwards,” according to the report, which was released Tuesday. “The time spent streaming spiked 44 percent between Q4 2019 and Q4 2020.”

Smart TVs were up 157 percent year-over-year in viewing hours. That far exceeded growth in use of external streaming devices, where viewing time in the quarter was still up 38 percent.

Regardless, connected-TV streaming devices remain the most-used way for viewers to watch online video, with 49 percent relying on them. Roku, with 31 percent of the streaming-device market, led the sector by a wide margin over No. 2 Amazon Fire TV platform, which had a 19 percent share.

Roku’s share prices skyrocketed this month after releasing figures on its U.S. market penetration (it has customers in more than 51 million households) and view times.

Gaming consoles saw the least growth among streaming hardware, up 16 percent in the quarter even as Sony and Microsoft debuted next-generation machines (though admittedly they seemed nigh impossible to find in stores before Christmas).

The biggest areas for growth were in less developed markets in South America and Africa, according to the report, though even the mature markets in North America and Asia continued to see growth. Africa usage was up 224 percent, while South America video usage grew by a remarkable 257 percent.

“In Q4, multiple regions reached new heights while growth in North America reached new lows, dragging down the global trend,” the study said. “As the year came to a close, South America and Africa led the world in growth of viewing time with 3x+ growth in November and December. The global transition to streaming is far from complete as less saturated markets tally astronomical growth and established regions continue steady increases in viewing time.”

Mobile Growth, Quality Lower

Among smaller screens, viewership increases were much more modest in the quarter, with mobile phones up just 19 percent, according to the study. Tablets were up 47 percent.

Smaller screens also had more problems than bigger screens during the quarter with picture quality and other quality indicators, such as buffering, start times, and start failures, among other quality measures. The report said mobile devices had “bumpy quality” during the quarter.

“Mobile phones lagged behind other devices with the worst setbacks in buffering, up 20 percent, and video start failures, up 19 percent, were the only device to experience no improvement in picture quality, and also tallied 5-percent longer start times,” the study said. “Desktop and tablets also both declined in quality, with increases in buffering and longer start times.”

Advertisers Return To Digital

In good news for ad-supported streamers, the study found brands had returned online in the quarter significantly after big drops in the pandemic’s first months.

“Demand surged towards the end of the year with a 34 percent increase in ad attempts and 31 percent increase in ad impressions,” the study said. “While quality issues continue to plague advertisers….the quality of ads that were delivered improved.”

Ad lengths grew 12 percent in the quarter, to an average 31.5 seconds, despite continued consumer preference for shorter and fewer ads as part of their experience, the report said.

“We witness the industry moving the opposite direction, with more ads running a full minute or more,” according to the study. “Advertisers ignore viewer preferences at their own peril, as the longer the ad, the more viewers will abandon the commercial and subsequent content. As competition mounts and viewer attention wanes, the goal to reduce fatigue and frequency will result in increasingly scarce inventory with which to ensure maximum engagement and monetization of every consumer touchpoint.”

Foster City, Calif.-based Conviva based the study on data from “proprietary sensor technology embedded in 3.3 billion streaming video applications, measuring in excess of 500 million unique viewers watching 180 billion streams per year with 1.5 trillion real-time transactions per day across more than 180 countries.”