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Research confirms healthy consumer appetite for digital subscription products

November 19, 2019 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

A new research report, Connecting the Dots: Digital Subscriptions – Media Subscribers’ Motivations & Preferences, reinforces our findings earlier this year that the subscription marketplace is vibrant and growing. The News Media Alliance, Star Tribune, and the University of Minnesota Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication research echoes the findings in our DCN Digital Subscription Economy report, which was released in September.

Both reports used online surveys to collect information on consumers’ willingness to pay and motivations for subscribing to news, entertainment, and sports content. DCN conducted its survey among a national sample of 1,000 U.S. adults while the News Media Alliance research sampled residents of Minnesota, with 497 respondents. Regardless of the sampling different methods, both studies produced similar findings in terms of consumer appetite for digital subscriptions in the marketplace.

Number of paid media subscriptions

The News Media Alliance analysis identified that the average household subscribes to on average almost four paid subscriptions across newspaper (print, online, or app), streaming music, streaming movies, streaming television, and magazine (online or app). More specifically, the average household pays for about 1.3 news subscriptions and approximately 2.5 entertainment subscriptions. The DCN Digital Subscription Economy research reports similar findings, on average, subscribers pay for 4.3 different digital media subscriptions.

Digital subscription spending

The News Media Alliance research reports that consumers are willing to spend, on average, $636 per year, or $53 per month. Almost exactly to the dollar, the DCN research found that digital consumers are willing to spend $54 per month on average or a total of $648 per year. Importantly, the News Media Alliance research also focuses on local news media. Readers of Star Tribune, the leading major newspaper within Minnesota, are willing to pay $70 per month, compared to subscribers overall.

Video subscriptions drive value

Connecting the Dots finds that spending on entertainment content is a key driver of subscription spending in general and has an important relationship with spending on other types of content. It’s no wonder, according to Brian Wieser, global president, business intelligence, GroupM, with Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, Amazon, NBC’s Peacock, and AT&T’s HBO Max could each average around $5 billion on content in the U.S. Interestingly, the News Media Alliance research shows that the more money that respondents spend on entertainment, the more likely they are to spend on national and local news.

DCN’s Digital Subscription Economy report also concludes that streaming subscription value is driven more by video streaming services than by live TV streaming, digital audio, or digital print subscriptions. In fact, when respondents were asked if they had to choose only one type of paid digital subscription to receive, 36% of replied video and 33% replied television. This was by at least a 2:1 margin compared to other digital media subscriptions services (i.e. Live TV, magazine, music/podcasting/radio, newspaper, print and sports). This value-topping source of entertainment is fueled, in part, by big-budget original productions with significant publicity. This drives “must have” status, Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). It is also increasingly impacted by bingeing behavior, which affects the finding that video streaming subscriptions (movies and television) lead in ultimate value.

Both studies show a robust and rapidly growing digital subscription marketplace. It doesn’t appear that consumers are anywhere near reaching a tipping point of “too much” spending or “too many” services. Importantly, both studies provide publishers with insight into the dimensions of consumer value to help inform their subscription strategies, offerings, and messaging.

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