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Most people opt for free, ad-supported streaming

April 2, 2024 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN
The topline: The streaming market is crowded and audiences face financial constraints so it is critical for streaming services to optimize experiences. 

The ubiquity of streaming services is evident in their widespread adoption across various models, including subscription-based and ad-supported platforms. In fact, nearly every U.S. household (99%) subscribes to one or more streaming services. Of those, the majority (58%) are willing to endure occasional interruptions in exchange for cost savings.

This sentiment underscores a growing trend toward prioritizing affordability without sacrificing the viewing experience. In addition, 62% prefer free, ad-supported streaming over paid subscriptions. New research, The Stream 2024, sponsored by Tubi, examines the streaming surge and reflects a fundamental shift in how people consume content. These days, convenience and flexibility take precedence over traditional television viewing.

Further, on-demand streaming services are the new norm in entertainment consumption. As households cut the cord to traditional cable subscriptions, streaming services are now integral to daily life for millions. From disrupting the sports-streaming landscape to championing representation and diversity in content, millennials and Gen Z are at the forefront of this cultural shift. However, as these demographics grapple with financial constraints, they are increasingly reevaluating their relationship with streaming services.

Viewers’ advertising preferences

Consumers viewing ad-supported streaming services ad preference:

  • Like those on TV, standard ad breaks are strategically inserted at convenient plot point breaks within an episode or film (35%). They provide a fitting pause that harmonizes with the content’s flow. 
  • Personalized ads that align with consumer interests and viewing journeys offer an enhanced experience. Most viewers (67%) prefer ads relevant to their streaming content, while 29% appreciate targeted ads tailored to their preferences.
  • A notable 35% of audiences embrace quirky or unconventional ads for an added dose of enjoyment: Surprise and delight viewers with the unexpected.

Budget constraints and content preferences

While the attraction of streaming is undeniable, viewers are increasingly mindful of their spending habits. With subscription costs rivaling traditional pay TV services, price sensitivity is rising, particularly among younger audiences. Consequently, many are reassessing their streaming habits, with 27% admitting to using more services than they plan to in the future.

Moreover, viewers crave variety and fresh content. Their preferences lean towards a vast selection of shows and movies (69%) and new or original content (61%). As such, there is a growing demand for tailored content experiences that cater to diverse tastes and preferences.

This report suggests that ad-supported freemium models are poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of content consumption. By offering a blend of quality content and reasonable spending options, platforms can cater to consumers’ evolving needs while presenting compelling opportunities for marketers. Notably, the future of ad-supported services relies on a holistic viewer journey where ads amp up rather than interrupt the narrative.

Tubi’s research also suggests that integrating artificial intelligence (AI) holds immense promise in enhancing content discovery and personalization, addressing viewers’ dissatisfaction with current recommendation algorithms. As technology, tastes, and behaviors evolve, the onus is on streaming platforms to anticipate and adapt to shifting trends, delivering engaging narratives and seamless viewing experiences.

Streaming quality time and self-care

Streaming has taken on a role beyond entertainment, fostering a role in human connection and personal empowerment. For many, streaming represents an opportunity to bond with loved ones, with 71% of viewers citing it as a form of quality time spent with family or friends. Moreover, many view streaming is a form of self-care, with 68% of individuals leveraging it to carve out precious alone time in their hectic schedules.

The rise of on-demand streaming represents a paradigm shift in how audiences consume and engage with content. As streaming services continue to develop, understanding and adapting to evolving viewer preferences and market dynamics is essential for both platforms and marketers. Streaming platforms can shape meaningful connections with audiences by embracing innovation, diversity, and affordability.

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