Mar 22, 2021

By Velocity Creative Strategy and Cultural Intelligence
The Velocity Creative Strategy and Cultural Intelligence team analyzes the behavior of today’s streaming audiences from a marketing and media planning perspective.

Click here to download the full report titled, "The Culture of Streaming."

“What are you watching?”

With the rise of streaming services, and a pandemic that has turned all our leisure time into screen time, this question has become almost as common as “How are you?” Asking what someone is watching is a way to get to know someone, learn about their current obsessions, and connect over shared fascinations and new explorations.

As ViacomCBS rolls out EyeQ, the integrated product suite of video streaming and creative ad solutions for brands, the Velocity Creative Strategy & Cultural Intelligence team set out to uncover the emerging audience behaviors surrounding streaming content, and provide insights for planners seeking competitive gains.

In the evolving streaming landscape, we found that content is all about personal control. Asynchronous viewing patterns allow people to stream what they want, when they want it—and this has only accelerated during the pandemic year, when 30% of American adults we surveyed watched TV while they were supposed to be working from home.

We also found that content inspires relationships. It brings together fan communities via IRL activations and deep Reddit subthreads. Today’s audiences build out narrative worlds in collaborative feats of imagination. They are ready to go to great lengths to access the content they love. These passionate fans are very tuned-in to both their favorite shows and the advertisers seeking their attention.

Advertisers have the opportunity to connect with content lovers in unexpected ways, and even turn them into brand fans, by adopting what we propose as three new rules of media planning.

Rule #1: Refocus targeting for borderless identities

The explosion of streaming content, personalized algorithms, and accessible media has opened up the gates for identity-driven exploration. As a result, audiences are not quite as predictable as media planners might think. In fact, 41% of American adults say that there’s a show, movie, or online video they love to watch that even a stranger would find surprising or funny because of how they appear.

Sometimes a love for content can radically shift someone’s identity. Thirty-nine percent of American adults have gotten so obsessed with a TV show that they felt like it consumed their whole identity for a period of time. This comes out to roughly 85 million American adults—more than the largest number of votes cast for a single presidential candidate.

Targeting can no longer be predicted by demographics alone. Coupling an understanding of your audience’s less predictable watching patterns, with a mix of broad demo and advanced targeting, will create the incremental gains in media performance that planners strive to deliver.

Rule #2: Connect with quality, culture-defining programming

If a good doctor is hard to find, quality content certainly is not. Half of Americans have used a show, movie, or online video as a form of therapy. Twenty-five percent say that a show has helped them understand a problem in their life. TV shows can also help people discover new avenues for exploration: 29% say a show inspired them to try a new activity or hobby. In this way, content can be a therapist, emotional doula, and teacher.

As accelerating technological innovations draw us further away from our simpler pasts, content can fulfill people’s nostalgic needs. Re-watching familiar content is an increasingly popular behavior in a world shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic. Repetition and known outcomes can offer much-needed comfort. People amass libraries of comforting content to get through trying times—55% have a go-to “feel-good show” that they watch whenever they want to improve their moods, and 26% rewatch segments so they can experience familiar emotions.

Americans are watching shows to feel their feelings and improve their lives. But only certain programming has the quality to influence their emotional and cultural journeys. Ad buys that ignore quality will risk missing out on the ROI that comes from being where it counts: in the heart of culture.

Rule #3: All screens, at scale

Audiences today don’t just watch TV shows. They make memes, quote epic lines, comment on threads, and follow stories down rabbit holes. They find community through shared references. People are passionate about the shows they watch, and they use the language of fandom to connect with strangers—and even strengthen their existing relationships. Nearly a third of Americans have deepened their connection with someone because they were fans of the same show.

Sometimes, a connection with content itself can become the most important relationship in someone’s life. One out of 10 Americans say that there were times when a show mattered more to them than their friends or family. Content gives them an always-accessible bond that humans can’t always provide.

Audiences are connecting with each other over content in increasingly deep ways, and in a staggering number of places. Prioritizing scale, across multiple platforms, will help planners maximize efficiency and access passionate audiences.

Connecting with audiences

Like streaming media, ads travel through the portals that shape our identities and change our worlds. For brands and media planners who want to connect with audiences in formative moments, ViacomCBS EyeQ provides the targeting to meet audiences where they live and dream; the quality content that excites and inspires Americans of all demographics, identities, and interests; and the scale to reach all the touchpoints in a viewer’s content journey.

Click here to download the full report, titled “The Culture of Streaming.”

“The Culture of Streaming” is the first of four proprietary studies that will be released over the course of 2021, providing consumer research and cultural insights that align with ViacomCBS EyeQ, the integrated product suite of streaming and creative ad solutions for brands.

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