Having spent prolonged periods inside during an unprecedented lockdown, it’s hardly a surprise we clocked up more hours on online media in 2020 than we’d probably care to admit. 

Throughout COVID-19, appetite for streaming content has barely wavered across 13 markets we’ve been keeping track of:

51% of consumers were streaming more TV shows and films in the first wave of our study in mid-March 2020, compared to 52% in our fourth wave in May.  

In response, streaming providers across the online entertainment space are expending a lot of effort to grow their user bases and keep people engaged. 

But whatever our movie and TV streaming preferences are driven by – boredom, what’s viral, our desire to switch off or escape, for example – needs are needs, and for those providers hoping to continue on an upwards trajectory, these are the types of needs that have to be met. 

So who’s streaming, and what’s the data you might be missing?

Who’s streaming and where?

In the U.S., Netflix is the dominant player in the streaming landscape across every generation.

69% of U.S. consumers have used Netflix to stream movies/TV in the past month.

Younger consumers are present most frequently on the platform, and figures decrease steadily with age. In the past month, 82% of Gen Z, 79% of millennials, 64% of Gen X and 46% of baby boomers say they’ve used Netflix to stream TV shows and movies. 

We can also see that Hulu and Disney+ are most favored by Gen Z and millennials, whereas Amazon Prime is favored slightly more by older generations, rising to 36% of Gen X but falling to just 25% of Gen Z. 

It’s especially worth noting how much of the market Disney+ has managed to acquire in a very short period of time since its launch in November 2019. Close to 3 in 10 in the U.S. have used Disney+ in the past month, rising to 37% for Gen Z and millennials.

The genres that fly

From custom research we ran in June in the U.S. and UK, we can dig a little deeper into streamers’ preferences for genre. 

The three genres with the most cross-generational appeal are comedy, action and adventure.

Comedy takes the top spot as the genre Gen Z, millennials and Gen X tend to watch on streaming services, except for boomers, who say action is the genre they tend to watch most. 

What’s more, it’s interesting to compare which generations stand out for watching genres others are less likely to. 

Streaming genres according to popularity

% of internet users who say they tend to stream the following genres

 Gen ZMillennials Gen X Baby boomers
Romantic comedy37362924
Documentaries / factual35444747
Period drama17262730
Source: GlobalWebIndex Custom Research, June 2020. Question: Which genres do you tend to watch on TV / film streaming services e.g. Netflix? Base: 2,001 (U.S.) and 1,000 (UK) internet users aged 16-64.

The genre of horror holds more appeal the younger users are; viewed by around half of Gen Z users, compared to just 1 in 5 baby boomers. 

Period dramas on the other hand, are almost twice as likely to appeal more to boomers (30%) than Gen Z (17%).

Younger generations stand out from their elder cohorts in their genre preferences:  

  • Gen Z are more likely to prefer comedy (74%), adventure (55%), horror (50%), sci-fi (42%), and romance (37%) compared to other generational cohorts.
  • Millennials, meanwhile tend to gravitate the most towards thriller (48%), superhero (41%), romantic comedy (41%), fantasy (41%) and sports genres (27%).

Why users are also considering watching new genres

Around the world, users of online streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or Disney+ show heightened levels of concern about the negative impacts of the coronavirus. 

In fact, users of these platforms are over 40% more likely than average to be concerned about the COVID-19 situation in their own country. 

Streamers are seemingly escaping feelings of continued anxiety around the outbreak not only by spending far longer on online media, but increasing the time they spend on nearly every device.  

In the streaming stakes, even though each service attracts viewers looking for different types of content, many have found the time to discover new genres they never thought they’d enjoy. 

This is evident in another custom research study conducted in the U.S. and UK in May.

Chart showing streamers are discovering new content

By prioritizing the most sought-after content at present – especially by new audiences – streaming services have a huge opportunity to rake in more viewership.

How they choose what to stream

It’s clear that all generations wish to see more comedy programs on streaming services. 

With so much choice at their fingertips, what actually influences users’ choice in what they decide to watch?

From our custom research, recommendations from family and friends are the most influential factor for U.S. and UK streamers when it comes down to deciding what to watch.

Factors that influence what viewers watch

% of internet users who say the following genres are influential

 Gen Z Millennials Gen XBaby boomers 
Recommendations from friends / family66656457
The list of what’s “trending” or “popular” on a streaming platform’s home screen54473521
“Suggested for you” / recommendations from the streaming platform of what I might like49534125
Viral hype on the internet
(e. g. memes, articles, a lot of people posting about a show / film)
Reviews / ratings from movie
sites (i. e. Rotten Tomatoes, IMdB)
Source: GlobalWebIndex Custom Research, May 2020. Question: How influential are the following factors when you decide what TV show or movie you want to watch? Base: 2,017 (U.S.) and 1,005 (UK) internet users aged 16-64.

As for what influential factor comes in second:

  • For Gen Z it’s the list of “whats trending” or “popular” on a streaming platform’s home screen (54%). 
  • For millennials and Gen X, it’s “suggested for you” recommendations from the streaming platform of what they might like (53% and 41% respectively). 
  • For 28% of baby boomers, it’s reviews and ratings from movie sites.

Getting a 360-degree view: the data many brands are missing 

70% of U.S. millennials who use streaming services at least 2-3 times per week cite watching TV shows and movies as one of their main reasons for going online.

Meanwhile, 36% say they regularly watch back-to-back episodes from the same show in one go.

But aside from what they’re already doing, how do you know what pushes their buttons? What other questions should you be asking?

Sharpening the focus relies on building a more nuanced understanding of why people behave the way they do, both in relation to brands and purchasing, and in their wider lives.

Psychographic insight provides the context needed to deliver products, services, and messages that really hit home. 

This crucial extra context means less guesswork for brands. Deciding which programs to invest in, how to advertise, and who to partner with can suddenly be derived from knowing what makes consumers tick – what’s shaping their agenda now

Take the same audience of millennial streamers in the U.S. who’ve watched TV and movies on a streaming platform at least 2-3 times per week. What happens when we dig a little deeper?  

Personality, self-perception and values

This group is more inclined to be swayed by others opinions – but not just this, they’re also 11% more likely than the average online TV streamer to regularly inform friends/family about new products and services too (60% do).

They’re also more likely to be ‘brand conscious’ and over half are willing to pay more for sustainable/eco friendly products. 


Their top interests are music (70%), television (65%) and food & drink (65%). Yet, compared against the average U.S. online TV streamer, we can see they’re 31% more likely to be interested in esports and 23% more likely to be interested in vegan food.

Almost 3 in 4 go on a domestic vacation at least once a year. Noting the higher costs of travel abroad, it’s not surprising that, at 37%, value for money was cited as having the biggest impact on their travel destination.

Touchpoints and purchase drivers 

YouTube and Facebook are their two most frequented social media platforms on a daily basis. When actively looking for more information, they consult search engines (54%), consumer reviews (40%), and social networks (33%) the most. 

In the past month, they’re more likely to have visited a brands website (60%), than to have watched a branded video (26%), or have read an email or newsletter from a brand (24%).

Free delivery (60%) is their biggest purchase driver when shopping online, but their sense of community also plays a key role: they’re 20% more likely than the average streamer to buy a product or service simply for the experience of being part of the community built around it.

Streaming providers that can encourage a more personal, community-driven experience this audience craves could therefore be onto a winning formula. 

Relationship with brands

U.S. millennial streamers want brands to make them feel valued (47%), and the theme of community is prevalent in many aspects of their persona: they’re 14% more likely than the average U.S. online TV streamer to want brands to run customer communities/forums. 

Though they value high quality products (48%) and rewards or discounts (46%), they want brands to offer customized/personalized products – more so than the average streamer.

They’re also more likely to say they want brands to be funny and bold – qualities streaming providers should aim to embody.

Insight in action: BBC case study 

As these insights demonstrate, the way to outperform competition is to prove to your audience how well you know them – and mirror what they desire.

With full knowledge of the opportunities fresh insight can bring, The BBC, the oldest and largest national broadcasting agency in the world, is deeply committed to understanding its audiences. 

They needed behavioral and psychographic data to assess what was working and why. And when the team signed up to the GWI analysis platform, they wanted to know as much as possible about who was consuming their content. They were looking to analyze the quality of their audience and understand how media consumption was changing.

Having identified affluent millennials as a key consumer for the brand, the team needed to prove to those who advertised with them that they reached more affluent millennials than other international news platforms.

These questions formed the starting point:

  • What defines affluent millennials? 
  • What do they value?
  • What do they want from brands? 

With the answers they needed, the teams were able to present to key stakeholders, helping drive new business and advertising revenue by confirming their wide-reaching appeal to millennial audiences.

When brands in the tourism sector wanted to know why affluent millennials travel and what they look for in a leisure trip, the team stepped in to help. 

BBC’s research proved that while older generations might want to spend more time on a beach being ‘pampered’, this younger generation is more interested in having an active holiday, using it as a time to explore a local culture. 

It’s not just about guaranteeing a good advertising ROI for partners, says Hamish, global insight lead at BBC News. In an overly saturated media landscape, the BBC also hopes to galvanize loyalty by shaping more programs its viewers want to watch. 

4 takeaways for streaming providers

  1. Marketing and advertising professionals are facing increased pressure to prove their impact and justify everyday decisions with hard data. From attracting more viewers to gauging the potential reception to a TV show that’s yet to air, data holds the answers you need to achieve almost every business goal.
  3. More specifically, psychographic data has a number of commercial benefits, including: guiding media spend, creative, product development, new business pitching, and brand purpose.
  5. With insight into the motivations and attitudes that shape consumer behaviors, your decision-making process will be easier and your strategy will have more impact.
  7. It’s crucial to use tools that go beyond demographic and behavioral data. Combining this with psychographic data, you can integrate the what with the why to build highly sophisticated profiles of your users. Really knowing your audience is the edge brands need to build better brand experiences that keep users coming back for more.

This post was first published on June 30, 2020. For more entertainment tips, browse our other articles.

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