Americans Taking Advantage of Ability to Watch TV on Their Own Schedules

Among those doing so, majority report "binge viewing"

Apr 08, 2013, 09:22 ET from Harris Interactive

NEW YORK, April 8, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Video on demand.  DVR's.  Streaming content.  Entire seasons of television shows collected in DVD box sets.  Americans' TV viewing habits were once at the mercy of network schedules, but now there are more ways than ever to watch shows on one's own schedule – and Americans are largely taking advantage of these options. 

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Nearly eight in ten Americans (78%) have ever utilized the varied technologies that enable us to watch TV shows on our own schedules, with the top methods including on demand services (41% total, 34% cable, 9% satellite); TiVo, DVR's or other recording devices (37%), Netflix streaming services (30%), purchasing, renting or borrowing episodes or seasons on DVD (29%) and Hulu or Hulu Plus (22%).  And of those who do so, over six in ten (62%) confirm that they ever watch multiple episodes of a single TV show at a time, sometimes called "binge viewing."

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,496 adults surveyed online between February 13 and 18, 2013 by Harris Interactive. Full findings and data tables are available here.

Not surprisingly, age plays a major role in having taken advantage of such "own schedule" viewing opportunities, with Americans 18-39 (89% ages 18-29, 90% ages 30-39) significantly more likely to have done so than those ages 40-54 (78%) – who are in turn more likely to have done so than the 55+ set (67%).

Perhaps more notably, Americans with children under 18 in the household are more likely than those without to have done so (84% with, 76% without), with the difference driven largely by Netflix streaming content (40% with, 27% without) and Amazon online and streaming content (15% with, 9% without).

Attention, please!

Among those who ever watch TV shows on their own schedule, over four in ten (43%) confirm having certain shows they make a priority to watch before anything else, as soon as they are available. 

  • Having such priorities or preferences is again more common among those under 40 (57% ages 18-29, 59% ages 30-39, 37% ages 40-54, 29% ages 55+) and among those with children under 18 in the household (49% with, 41% without).

For those with viewing priorities, the top factor in what they prioritize isn't a complicated one – it's simply those seen as "My favorite / most enjoyable" (81%).  Other notable, if less dominant, factors include "I can't wait to find out what happens next" (53%) and "It depends on how much time I have to watch" (42%), followed by "I don't want to get behind and risk plot points being spoiled" (37%) and "It depends on my mood" (34%).

  • Women are more likely to be motivated by a desire to find out what happens next (60% women, 46% men), while for men the decision is more dependent on their mood (40% men, 29% women).

Fewer than two in ten (18%) identified a desire to discuss the show with friends, family and/or coworkers as a factor influencing their viewing priorities.

Watch around the clock

Among those watching TV shows on their own schedules, over six in ten (62%) ever binge view.  Both new and old shows contribute to this, with half (50%) bingeing on older shows or past seasons of current shows and four in ten (40%) binging on current seasons of shows.

  • 18-39 year olds (78% ages 18-29, 73% ages 30-39) are more likely than those 40 and older (58% 40-54, 48% ages 55+) to binge view, with 40-54 year olds also more likely to do so than the 55+ set.
  • Those with children under 18 in the household are more likely than those without to binge view current seasons of shows (48% with, 37% without).

The choices between which shows to binge view is driven most by the type of show, with the majority of binge viewers (56%) saying this influences their likelihood to binge view a particular program.  Other strong factors are a desire to catch up to the "live" broadcast (44%) and the genre of the show (43%).  Few (13%) indicate that their choices are driven by the social aspect, such as watching marathons with friends and participating in "watercooler" conversations.

Nearly three-fourths of binge viewers report television (73%) as the device they most often find themselves binge viewing on, followed distantly by computers (22%).  However, a different story emerges among 18-29 year olds, among whom televisions (50%) and computers (42%) are in much closer contention.

Among those who ever binge view, nearly three in ten (28%) indicate that they are doing so more now than a year ago; just over half (52%) are doing so the same amount as a year ago, and two in ten (20%) are doing so less.

Looking forward, the binge viewing trend shows signs of leveling off; only one in ten Americans (9%) indicate that they expect to be binge viewing more a year from now, and two-thirds (67%)  expect to be doing so the same amount at that time as they are now.  One-fourth (24%) expect to be doing so less in a year.

So What?

Self-scheduled and binge television viewing trends suggest implications for the television industry at large, potentially impacting both advertisers and content producers.

For advertisers, the clearest impact is that some of these viewers will be taking in contact on platforms beyond their reach, such as Netflix and Amazon's VOD services. 

Content producers, meanwhile, have both positive and negative implications to explore.  On the upside, the ability to quickly catch up on past seasons of existing shows, particularly ones with complex storylines, could give more viewers the opportunity to jump into new episodes without confusion.  On the downside, viewers watching when they choose, not when it airs, can play havoc with ratings. 

Ultimately, TV programming needs to turn a profit in order to justify its production.  Looking ahead, the TV and advertising industries will need to find increasing ways to embrace the binge and make the when-I-want it trend work for them.

To see other recent Harris Polls, or to search through over 40 years of topics in the Harris Vault™, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.


This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 13 and 19, 2013 among 2,496 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, Harris Interactive 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 Interactive 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 the Harris Interactive 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 Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll® #20, April 8, 2013
By: Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive
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