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TV Viewership Is Surging During the Pandemic: Here's What People Are Watching

By Rich Duprey - Mar 28, 2020 at 10:22AM

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The list of winners is surprising -- as is the biggest loser.

Most of the American public is heeding the advice of officials to practice social distancing and self-isolation, leaving the house only for necessities. With life put on hold, people are ratcheting up the amount of TV they're watching.

A survey of almost 1,300 U.S. consumers last week by Hub Entertainment Research found that broadcast television had seen a 32% spike in viewers watching "a lot" more programming compared to the month before, and cable TV had seen a similar 31% jump, likely a result of people watching the news for developments around the coronavirus pandemic.

Man opening a laptop with screens streaming out

Image source: Getty Images.

Yet the greatest impact on view times is being seen on streaming video platforms, where two-thirds or more of the people are watching at least "a little" more programming.

Below is the list of entertainment outlets that are winning the battle for viewer eyeballs, while we all bide our time waiting for the crisis to pass -- along with one surprising player that's lagging behind the others.

Sit back and relax

At the time of the survey, going to the movies was still an option, though AMC Entertainment and Cineworld have since announced they are closing all of their theaters. Even so, only 8% of those responding were going to the movies a lot more during periods of self-quarantine, while 10% were going a little more often.

More people, however, were using their newfound free time to play video games, with 65% of consumers saying they were spending more time with their Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, or Nintendo Switch.

Rentals and pay-per-view content, Netflix (NFLX -2.04%), and Walt Disney's (DIS -0.70%) Hulu were all tied for second place: Each venue saw a 66% surge in viewers, though there were slight differences in the proportions of those watching the outlets a little more and those watching a lot more (rentals and pay-per-view saw the biggest increase, or a 35% boost, in those watching "a lot" more).

Winners and losers

The overall winner, however, was Disney's new streaming service Disney+, which had a 68% jump in viewership. Some 36% of the respondents were watching a lot more compared to the past month, and 32% were watching a little more.

The increase undoubtedly is due to all the kids home from school during the pandemic, as there was a reported 60% rise in time spent watching children's content.

The biggest loser -- or smallest winner -- is seemingly Amazon (AMZN -2.16%). While Amazon saw a bump in Prime Video viewing, it lagged behind every other venue, including broadcast and cable TV.

Just 29% of survey respondents said they were watching a lot more Prime Video, while 27% said they were watching a little more. That was the smallest increase in both categories for any of the streaming platforms.

Viewing Habits Now vs. One Month Ago


A Lot More

A Little More






Rented/pay-per-view movies or shows












Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo devices




Broadcast TV




Cable TV




Amazon Prime Video




Movie theaters




Data source: Hub Entertainment Research.

What will you be doing tomorrow?

When it comes to how much streaming video people think they will be watching next month, Amazon also falls behind many of its peers, though that still means 48% of people think they'll be watching more Prime Video this time in April. That puts it slightly ahead of broadcast and cable TV.

Disney still leads the pack with 63% of survey respondents saying they anticipate they'll be watching more Disney+ in the weeks ahead. Other options were close, but they were all below 60% for that same time frame.

Since Disney+ launched, observers have questioned how many viewers it will keep, because a lot of free trials were offered to entice consumers to try it.

When kids end up going back to school -- even if it's at the start of the new school year in the fall -- it's probable that the uptick in views will moderate. But it's clear that the entertainment giant is enjoying strong momentum and will likely do so for some time, as it launched its streaming service at a fortuitous moment last November.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors.

Rich Duprey has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Nintendo and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney, long January 2021 $85 calls on Microsoft, short April 2020 $135 calls on Walt Disney, and short January 2021 $115 calls on Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Netflix, Inc. Stock Quote
Netflix, Inc.
$240.68 (-2.04%) $-5.01, Inc. Stock Quote, Inc.
$141.65 (-2.16%) $-3.13
The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
The Walt Disney Company
$124.09 (-0.70%) $0.87
Microsoft Corporation Stock Quote
Microsoft Corporation
$291.26 (-0.28%) $0.83
Sony Corporation Stock Quote
Sony Corporation
$87.14 (1.19%) $1.02
Nintendo Co., Ltd. Stock Quote
Nintendo Co., Ltd.
$55.18 (1.47%) $0.80
AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. Stock Quote
AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc.
$23.82 (-3.99%) $0.99
Cineworld Group plc Stock Quote
Cineworld Group plc
$0.11 (-52.17%) $0.12

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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