Time spent on TV viewing soars but with fewer eyeballs, says Samba

The novel-coronavirus pandemic and societal turmoil over systemic racism aren’t making more of us into TV viewers—but those of us tuning in can’t stop.

Those findings came Tuesday in a release from Samba TV, a San Francisco firm that generates insights on viewership via software on connected TVs, as opted into by viewers who use the firm’s recommendation engine. It observed 1% fewer households watching 27 widely-viewed TV networks than in June 2019. But TV-watching time among the remaining homes spiked by 39%.

“The pandemic, resulting shut downs, and orders to stay at home have changed the TV viewing landscape,” said Jeffrey Silverman, director of data science and analytics at Samba, in an emailed statement. “What’s particularly interesting, however, is that while linear TV isn’t attracting significantly more viewers, loyal viewers are spending much more time consuming programming.”

News channels were particularly big winners, Samba found. CNN’s time spent soared by 322%, followed by Fox News jumping 202% and MSNBC increasing by 167%. 

Samba saw African-American viewership increasing even higher, with over-indexing figures for those households escalating over the U.S. average: from 9% to 15% at MSNBC and 8% to 19% at CNN. Samba credited that to heightened interest in civil-rights protests after widely-publicized cases of police violence against Black Americans.

“The big gains by cable news are proof that Americans couldn’t turn away from the twin news cycles gripping the country in June,” Silverman said. “Alternatively, the trends we see in lifestyle and children’s programming show that many households are looking for an escape as well as looking to keep kids occupied while they remain at home throughout the summer.”

Samba’s release cited time spent spiking by 62% at Nickelodeon and 15% at Disney Channel, with unspecified increases at Cooking Channel, Food Network and Travel Channel.

The 27 networks Samba tracked were ABC, Bravo, CBS, Cinemax, Comedy Central, Cooking Channel, Disney Channel, E!, CNN, ESPN, FOX, Fox News, Fox Sports 1, Food Network, FX, HBO, History, HGTV, MSNBC, MTV, NBC, Nickelodeon, Showtime, TNT, TBS, Travel Channel, and USA.

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The company says its software runs on some 35 million connected TVs from such brands as Sony, Philips and TCL. Two years ago, Samba said that more than 90% of people with TV’s containing Samba’s technology opted into its recommendation-plus-tracking software.