Viewers still chase content but ‘new to me’ TV gains traction

While subscription churn continues to afflict the streaming industry, new research from Hub Entertainment suggests that “new to me” content is gaining traction thanks to the abundance of programming from the “Peak TV” era. 

Rising subscription costs throughout 2022 played into a notable struggle in service loyalty — or churn —  and a “watch, cancel and go,” or “binge-and-bail” mentality became a growing behavior pattern as viewers migrated from service to service in short-term subscription frenzies.  

Hub Principal Jon Giegengack told StreamTV Insider that many people might assume this would only be exacerbated by the now-concluded dual Hollywood actors and writers strikes, but the era of “peak TV created this huge reservoir” of strong content. Peak TV was a term first coined in 2015 to describe an exploding number of TV content options. That epoch was speculated to be coming to a close late last year and has been more widely declared dead throughout 2023.

The firm’s latest “Conquering Content” report surveyed 1,600 U.S. consumers (ages 16-74) in October who watched at least one hour of TV per week. “New to me” content is a steadily rising favorite in Hub’s findings, with 64% of respondents saying their favorite show is an older one that has been on for several seasons (up from 54% in 2021).

“There's still only 24 hours in the day, and people didn't have time to watch them when they were new,” Giegengack said. Respondents most commonly listed Suits, a show canceled in 2019, as their favorite show. In fact, the show became Netflix’s most-watched acquired series in a single week and broke several Nielson records — such as being the first to gather 3 billion minutes of watch time every week for seven weeks in a row.

Giegengack added that many other highly-watched shows like The Office and Friends became more widely popularized long after their aired finales. 

This “reservoir” may even be somewhat resilient to the impacts of the strikes, as around 20% of viewers indicated that fewer new releases would lead them to cancel their subscription whereas 47% said it wouldn’t necessarily impact their use of streaming services at all. 

“In the streaming era, with everything on demand, people are starting to look at TV the same way that they look at music, or they look at books, where there's a lot more of a shelf life,” he explained. “A good show is a good show, whether it came out yesterday or a few years ago.”

A separate survey from Aluma Insights also found a willingness to watch older content from many free TV streamers – or free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) services - as well, with 54% of respondents either agreeing or strongly agreeing that “pro-bono viewing makes up” for the lack of new content from a largely licensed library.

Still, the firm significantly noted that 30% of the respondents had no opinion on the tradeoff, suggesting in many ways that “the jury is still out.” It recommended that FAST service providers tread carefully in adding additional ad minutes, and they should instead focus on improving the ad-viewing experience.

The pattern of diving back into older content also rests on the increasing importance of a platform’s content discovery quality, according to Hub’s report. Sixty-one percent said they were more likely to choose a service with a better set of tools for search, discovery and recommendation — rising from 56% in last year’s report.

“[Viewers] are really looking forward to discovering new shows that don't necessarily have to be the latest, greatest show. These are shows that they've missed because of peak TV,” Jason Platt Zolov, one of the report authors, told STV.

Content- and cost-driven churn is still commonplace

The industry still continues to struggle with “serial churners:” viewers who subscribe then quickly cancel with a full TV binge-belly. Research from Antenna found around one-third of U.S. premium SVOD signups came from serial churners as of Q1 2023.

Furthermore, even when these serial churners come back, the more times they churn and return, the less likely they are to stick to a service uninterrupted for a longer period of time.

And it isn’t the only finding to suggest that cost continues to drive consumer action. According to research by Horizon Media in August, a majority of viewers were supportive of the writer and actors in the strikes — but wouldn’t back it in the event of higher subscription costs.

Giegengack believes that viewers will always move between different platforms to some extent in such a saturated streaming service environment. 

He cited Hub-conducted research he presented at this year’s Matrix Media Ad Sales Summit that noted “revolving door” churn is still a standard consumption pattern for many viewers. Forty-three percent either strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement: “I often subscribe, cancel and resubscribe so I’m only paying when there are shows I want to watch.”

Towards the second half of the peak TV production era, Giegengack reflected on many shows being created exclusively for one platform. “All of these companies trying to be the next Netflix and wanting to be the one destination that the clients go to, [in] the economics of streaming, that's kind of a futile goal.”

But as streamers observe the churn and movement of viewers from one service to the next, they are “re-embracing” the idea of collaborative licensing and bundling.

“People are going to use a lot of platforms no matter what,” he argued. “I think we're going to see a lot of these good shows that were only available on one platform start to have a whole second rendition, a whole second life, as they are licensed out to other platforms.”