US viewers opt for free TV streaming

Traditional pay TV operators and broadcast networks still dominate the consumer television landscape, but US viewers start to turn to new options, from subscription video on demand (SVOD), to electronic sell-through (EST), to free TV streaming.

While SVOD drives the most online TV streams by far, the incidence of consumers who used SVOD and free streaming in 2012 was relatively equal. According to NPD’s “Free Streaming TV” report, 12% of U.S. TV watchers reported streaming TV shows for free during the prior three months, compared to 14% who watched a TV show via SVOD.

“Over half of the viewers for streaming TV are between the ages of 18 and 34, so the YouTube generation is evolving from short-form and user-generated content to TV shows and, like YouTube, they can watch where and when they want,” said Russ Crupnick, SVP of industry analysis at NPD. “Despite the attention lavished on tablets and phones, an astonishing 83% of free TV streaming programs are viewed on a computer.”

Nearly all broadcast and cable TV networks offer free streaming of their programming via the internet; however, based on NPD’s latest information, consumer usage of free-streaming TV sites varies. Hulu.com dominated free streaming TV, accounting for 43% of total streams during 2012.

After Hulu, the five broadcast network sites (CBS.com, ABC.com, FOX.com, NBC.com, and CWTV.com) accounted for another 30% of total streams. Four cable TV sites — abcfamily.com, comedycentral.com, MTV.com, and A&ETV.com — round out the top-ten free streaming TV sites.

NPD’s research shows that streaming consumers are very satisfied overall with the experience. All of the top 10 free streaming sites have strong consumer feedback with 75% or more of each of these site’s users reporting that they intend to return to the site in the future.

Hulu.com, in particular, has very committed users, given that two-thirds say that they “definitely” will return to the site. These free sites generally perform well on convenience and site organisation. Most of them also perform well on current release availability; however, Fox.com streamers rate the site much lower on this measure, due to the fact that Fox generally delays availability of its programming.

“The consumer response to program availability on Fox, speaks to the often-controversial question of whether the audience detects shows that are windowed,” Crupnick said.

Based on NPD’s findings, the shift toward internet video distribution drives a more complex and diverse set of content and purchase and rental options to consumers. With it comes a more diverse set of direct and indirect competitors among movie studios and TV networks, as well as their TV and digital distribution partners.

According to Crupnick, “from the consumer perspective, it is important to monitor the habits and perceptions of the audience as all of these distribution models evolve, which will help align programming to the target audience and inform whether consumers are responding positively to the experience these options provide.”

Free streaming TV chart