Over the past decade, on-demand streaming has revolutionized how we watch television and movies. With endless entertainment options now available on platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, audiences can choose to discover fresh new series or revisit their reliable favorites anytime, anywhere. But with such a seemingly infinite catalog of content at our fingertips, what are viewers actually watching? Let‘s dive deep into the data, trends, and psychology behind the modern streaming experience.
Streaming Dominates the Entertainment Landscape
It‘s no secret that streaming has displaced traditional television as the dominant entertainment medium. According to Deloitte‘s 2022 Digital Media Trends survey, 78% of U.S. households now subscribe to at least one paid streaming video service, up from just 10% in 2009. In contrast, cable TV subscriptions have declined over 30% in the past decade. Americans now spend nearly one-third of their daily video consumption time streaming rather than watching live TV.
These seismic shifts illustrate how streaming has disrupted legacy business models. The old cable TV bundle that offered limited choice for a high monthly fee simply can‘t compete with the personalized, on-demand experience enabled by streaming.
Comfortable Familiarity Still Reigns
Given the meteoric rise of buzzy original streaming content, you might assume viewers are consistently tapping into the new rather than the familiar. But our analysis of the 25 most watched titles across major U.S. streaming platforms in 2022 reveals 64% are not originals. Whether it‘s old reliable sitcoms like The Office and Friends, crime dramas like NCIS and Law & Order: SVU, or reality competitions like The Great British Baking Show, viewers continue to heavily lean into non-original programming.
In fact, research indicates that on average, people are watching new content just 60% of streaming sessions and re-watching existing content 40% of the time. Clearly audiences still crave the comfort of familiar favorites, despite seemingly endless options.
Demographics also influence these trends. A 2021 Horowitz Research study found that Gen Z and Millennial viewers watch more original streaming content than Gen Xers and Boomers, who tend to favor old favorites. Additionally, family co-viewing drives reruns as parents share beloved childhood shows with kids. So while younger audiences are more adventurous, nostalgia still wields great influence.
The Quest for Fresh Content
However, the fact remains that 60% of time spent streaming is focused on discovery. And for many viewers, a key motivation for subscribing to services is gaining access to original programming. So which platforms offer audiences the greatest chance to find fresh content?
Our research reveals that Amazon Prime Video currently leads in original series, with 23 of its 25 most popular titles being Prime Originals. From award-winning comedies like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to genre hits like The Boys and Reacher, Amazon is dominating the originals game. Meanwhile, Hulu lags behind with only 4 originals in its top 25.
On the movie side, Netflix takes the lead in original films with 13 in its top 25 including critical darlings like Roma and The Irishman. And Netflix plans to release an original movie every week in 2022 to feed subscriber demand for new films. In contrast, HBO Max has just 3 original movies in its most-watched titles.
So if you‘re hungry for original content, Amazon and Netflix currently have the strongest offerings. That said, Hulu delights those seeking comfort viewing of older series.
Disney+ and Hulu Corner the Classics
Given the vast Disney catalog, it‘s no surprise that Disney+‘s most popular movies are also the oldest on average – nearly 10 years. Animated classics like Snow White, treasured franchises like Star Wars, and recent blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame allow Disney+ to dominate throwback viewing.
Similarly, Hulu‘s top TV shows are the oldest on average at 10 years. From beloved sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother to soapy dramas like Grey‘s Anatomy, Hulu offers viewers a chance to revisit shows from the past decade. The lack of recent originals allows both classic films and series to flourish on these services.
In contrast, Netflix‘s newer, original heavy catalog means its top shows average just 3 years old. Rapid hits like Stranger Things and Squid Game capture the cultural zeitgeist, dominating viewing on Netflix.
Global Audiences Lead to More Diverse Content
As streamers expand internationally, investment in foreign language content is growing dramatically. Netflix plans to release 25 Korean originals this year and brands like HBO Max are seeing hits like Spain‘s Venga Juan. Audiences are embracing non-English shows that offer fresh perspectives.
Additionally, demand for diversity within American programming continues rising. Black, Latinx, Asian, and LGBTQ creators are bringing fresh stories to screens. Complex authentic characters that reflect diverse experiences have become a key battleground in the streaming wars.
Streaming‘s Impact on Labor and Content
However, the shift to streaming has fundamentally impacted creative careers and compensation. With unlimited space for catalog content, streamers are buying fewer original projects which depresses wages for writers, actors and crews. Unions like WGA have gone on strike for better pay as they get paid less for work that remains on streaming indefinitely.
Additionally, algorithms that recommend and rank content create incentives to program for maximum engagement over quality. This can mean trend-chasing rather than thoughtful creation. Despite abundant choice, streaming economics can constrain creativity in unexpected ways.
Optimizing the Streaming Experience
With myriad options just one click away, optimizing your streaming experience is vital:
- Use a password manager to easily log into different services and keep track of accounts.
- Consider a VPN to access regional libraries and see content not available in your area.
- Check your internet speeds and upgrade equipment if needed to prevent disruptive buffering.
- Create playlists to track content you want to stream in the future.
- Don‘t feel guilty about rewatching an old favorite for comfort viewing. Streaming offers freedom – enjoy it!
While streaming has clearly triumphed over linear TV, a mix of novelty and nostalgia still drives what we watch. Audiences are embracing a dynamic streaming landscape that finally provides the choice and control viewers have long craved. Yet as this new era continues evolving, its impacts on content, careers, and culture will remain complex and challenging. For now, we can delight in having both new frontiers to explore and familiar favorites to revisit whenever we want. Happy streaming!