Netflix replaces Live TV as the default TV source for young viewers

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New research from Hub Entertainment Research shows that while cord cutting remains low, online TV is becoming the default for key TV segments and scenarios.

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Online sources have become a more likely default in scenarios where viewers are most engaged

In a very short time, online TV sources have become more common than not: more than three-fourths of TV consumers watch online to some extent, and the average pay TV customer uses 2 or more online TV sources in addition to their MVPD subscription. So now that viewers have multiple options to choose from, which sources are emerging as the TV “default”—the first source they turn on when they want to watch TV?

The latest wave of Hub’s “Decoding the Default” study reveals important shifts in consumers’ go-to source for TV content. Among those who watch at least some online TV content…

  • Live TV is still the single most common default source. 34% say Live TV is the first thing they turn on when they want to watch—higher than any other platform.
  • However: that share is dropping significantly. In 2013, 50% of viewers named live TV as their default – 16 points higher than this year
  • Online sources now account for as much share-of viewing as live TV and DVR, combined. Across users of all TV platforms, viewers allocate 32% of their total TV viewing to live TV (down from 41% in 2013) and 15% to shows on their DVR (down from 21% in 2013). Online platforms now account for 46% of all viewing time (up from 34% in 2013)
  • Among young viewers, online sources have replaced live shows as the “home base” for TV.

     * 40% of viewers age 16-24 use Netflix as their home base. Only 26% default to live TV.
     * Millennials (age 18-34) are equally likely to default to live TV (33%) and Netflix (31%)

Online platforms have become the default in what some might consider the most valuable viewing scenarios. Among those who watch any online content…

  • Live TV is still the go-to source for channel-surfing scenarios.

     * “When I don’t have anything specific in mind, I just want to watch something”:
         40% of viewers say that live TV is their default source, vs. only 27% who say Netflix.
     * “When I want a TV show on in the background while I do other things”:
         Half (50%) of consumers say live TV is their default, and only 15% say Netflix.

  • But Netflix is now the most common default source for engaged TV viewing     

     * “When I have a specific show in mind I want to watch”:
         26% say their default source in this scenario is Netflix, vs. just 15% who say live TV.
                 * This is a reversal from how consumers answered the same scenario in 2013 (Live TV 29%, and Netflix 18%)

     * “When I want to focus on what I’m watching without any distractions”:
         More than a quarter (26%) of all viewers say they default to Netflix in this situation,
         vs. only 20% who say Live TV.    
                * Again, just two years ago, highly focused viewing was Live TV’s territory:
                 26% named it as their default, vs. just 19% who defaulted to Netflix.

“A change in default sources is not the same as completely cutting a pay TV provider,” said Jon Giegengack, principal at Hub and one of the authors of the study. “However we think it’s an important psychological threshold. People love choice—but when it comes to TV, there are more alternative sources than any one person could use. They crave a home base, and the position of ‘first source turned on’ will be an increasingly enviable one as the market evolves.”

“It’s important to note that along with an overall decline as consumers’ go-to viewing source, Live TV is losing ground in what one might argue are the more valuable viewing occasions.” Added Peter Fondulas of Hub. “The shows where people are most engaged, vs. the occasions when they’re just looking for something to have on in the background.”

About this Research
“Decoding the Default” is a tracking study from Hub Research. The 2015 survey included 1,200 US TV viewers with broadband, ages 16 to 74. (Comparisons to 2013 findings are among viewers who watch at least some online content, age 18-54.) An excerpt of the report is available for free from Hub Entertainment Research. The data was released in July 2015.

About Hub Entertainment Research
Hub Entertainment Research is a market-research firm with deep expertise in television, movie, videogame, music, publishing, and sports—anywhere that entertainment and new technology overlap. Our work includes The Hub Reports: an annual series of 6 syndicated studies that track key behaviors of TV consumers, and enable decision-makers to anticipate the biggest risks and opportunities in a rapidly changing marketplace. For more information, please visit us at

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Jon Giegengack
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