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On TV, the Pandemic’s Biggest Impact Was Accelerating Behaviors That Were Already Happening

The pandemic is an experience that none of us will soon forget. The most obvious impact on the TV industry was the immediate and massive surge in viewing created by lockdowns. But viewing has dropped from those early peaks. In the end, history may show that the pandemic’s biggest legacy was that it turbocharged the shift from traditional pay TV bundles to streaming platforms that was already underway.

The pandemic increased engagement with live TV – but it was only temporary:

Since 2013 Hub has measured which platform viewers name as their *default* source – the first thing they turn on when they want to watch TV.

September 2019: Six months before the lockdown, 34% of viewers said that Live TV from a pay TV provider was their default – the lowest number since we started tracking this question in 2013

July 2020: By July that number had risen to 38% (the highest since 2017) as people paid constant attention to the news

September 2020:  But two months later the decline had returned, and even accelerated – only 30% said that live TV was their default (a new low)

The pandemic is accelerating the shift from traditional pay TV to streaming video.

Among those who cancelled their traditional pay TV service since the pandemic began, about half said that they would have done it anyway.  But a quarter (24%) said that COVID was the trigger for their decision to drop cable.  At the same time, 25% of *all respondents* said they had added a new streaming TV service since mid-March.  

COVID is also driving more people to move.  In fact:  among those in our survey who said they had moved since the pandemic began, more than half said the pandemic had at least something to do with that decision (and a third said it had “a lot” to do with it). And we know that moving has long been associated with cord cutting.   

Creators and distributors are already adapting to a streaming and DTC world.  The pandemic is a reason to swing for the fences. 

One example: the successful launch of Disney+ put Disney in a much better position than many other media companies. Even so, this week Disney announced a huge reorganization to orient the company around streaming.  It would be easy to read this as a reaction to COVID’s devastation of the theater and theme park businesses, but Bob Chapek said otherwise on CNBC: “I would say COVID accelerated the rate at which we made this transition, but this transition was going to happen anyway.”  There is no question the pandemic is a devastating disruption.  But in every disruption, there is opportunity.  And new viewer behaviors ushered in by the pandemic represent a big opportunity for companies that can execute on their streaming and DTC strategies in time to meet it.