Cable is King but Streaming Stands Strong When it Comes to Americans' TV Viewing Habits

Streaming gaining on traditional TV viewership modes as a preferred way of watching, particularly among Millennials

Jun 18, 2014, 10:00 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, June 18, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Do you still call it "watching TV" when you're not actually using a TV to do it? That's a question that may be coming up more and more today, given the increasing use of streaming as a viewership option. While over three-fourths of U.S. adults (77%) say they regularly watch television shows via either cable (55%) or satellite TV (23%), over four in ten say they regularly watch via streaming (43%) including two-thirds of Millennials (67%).

What's more, streaming seems to be slowly gaining ground on more traditional modes when it comes to the ways Americans most often watch television programs (though it's in no danger of overtaking them in the immediate future). At 85%, the percentage of Americans saying they most often watch TV on, well, a TV (live feed, recorded or on demand), sans streaming, is down from 89% in 2012. Streaming, meanwhile, is up from 20% in 2012 to 23% today. This preferential shift is strongest when looking at Millennials, among whom non-streaming TV preference has declined from 77% to 68% while streaming preference has grown from 41% to 47%.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,300 U.S. adults surveyed online between April 16 and 21, 2014. (Full results, including data tables, available here)

Nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) say they're watching more online/streaming television programming now than they were a year ago, while 37% say their online/streaming viewership is no different than last year and 7% say they're watching less this way now than a year ago. Looking ahead, nearly two in ten (18%) expect to be watching more online/streaming television programming a year from now while 4% expect to be watching less and half (50%) don't anticipate a change.

Gotta see it

Both premium cable networks and streaming services are hard at work trying to make themselves indispensable through exclusive content, but how much is this impacting consumer behaviors? Nearly four in ten Americans (38%) say they've subscribed to premium cable channels in order to watch specific shows, while one-fourth (24%) have subscribed to one or more streaming services for the same reason.

  • Looking specifically at streaming TV's likely "core" constituents, half (50%) of those who list streaming among their top go-to's for television shows say they've subscribed to streaming services for access to specific shows. Additionally…
    • Six in ten streaming-dominant viewers would like to be able to watch TV pilots and vote on what gets ordered as a full series (60%).
    • Four in ten (40%) would be willing to pay extra for a service that allowed them to stream current shows ad-free.
    • 37% would pay more for a streaming service that allowed them to temporarily download TV episodes, for when they're away from an Internet connection.

How are streamers... well... streaming?

Among those who regularly watch television shows via streaming, three-fourths (74%) use a computer to do so, while just over half (55%) use a television (whether via a set-top box, a game system or a television with integrated online capabilities).

  • Nearly four in ten (37%) watch on tablets, including more than six in ten tablet owners (63%).
  • Three in ten (30%) watch on smartphones, including just over four in ten smartphone owners (42%).

Attention deficit

Distracted viewing continues to be the norm, with nearly eight in ten U.S. adults (78%) saying they're ever doing other things while watching TV.  More specifically, more than six in ten (63%) engage in online activities; over one-third (35%) text, three in ten (30%) read a book, magazine or newspaper, and 7% read a book on an electronic reading device. 22% say they do other things.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between April 16 and 21, 2014 among 2,300 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll® #57, June 18, 2014
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Manager, Harris Poll Content

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll.  Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit

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SOURCE The Harris Poll