Understanding Entertainment Audiences in the Age of Constant Change

Published Jan 11, 2022

Julanne Schiffer, VP Streaming Entertainment and Film

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Among the many other aspects of life that have changed over the past two years, the pandemic has had a profound influence on consumer behavior in media and entertainment. Lockdowns forced the closure of movie theaters, which, in turn, led to delays in movie releases and shifts to releases via streaming platforms. Though movie theaters have since reopened, studios and media companies are still grappling with many questions about business models in the evolving landscape. But the good news is, the outlook for 2022 is promising, especially for theatrical releases.

On the home front, streaming has seen a continual uptick in recent years—and consumers have been provided with a litany of streaming services to choose from. In such a competitive landscape where content is the key to success, it’s critical to keep up with audiences in real-time. To understand how consumers are engaging with entertainment across platforms and to understand ever-evolving drivers of choice, we fielded a survey of 1,229 U.S. adults in November 2021.

Positive Signs for Movie Theaters

The stunningly successful release of Spider-Man: No Way Home in mid-December displayed that audiences are eager to get back to theaters—even amidst rising COVID-19 cases around the world. The fact of the matter is that movie-goers missed going to theaters while they were closed; forty-five percent said they “missed it a lot,” and 35% expect to be “going more often” in the next three months. This is great news, given all the upcoming tentpole releases in 2022.

Why do they choose the in-person experience over staying home? For over half of movie-goers, it’s as simple as “viewing movies on the big screen” (53%) and “sound quality” (50%).

But not all things are equal.

Consumers, especially older audiences who will be critical in lifting box office in 2022, consider Action/Adventure (75%), Science Fiction/Fantasy (61%), and Horror (60%) films “better in the theater” than at home. Other genres are viewed as sufficient for the small(er) screen.

For those that do prefer staying at home—including 16% who say they’ll go to theaters less going forward—they frequently cite that it’s “too expensive” (57%) or that they “got used to watching movies at home” (43%). The perception is that it is cheaper at home, they feel more comfortable, and they can pause the movie when they so choose.

Despite the comfort that comes with at-home entertainment, the rise of streaming and PVOD (premium video-on-demand) releases did serve a purpose in COVID times. In fact, PVOD “buyers” are superfans who plan to continue to drive business both in the theaters and at home.

That said, we learned in 2021 that, by and large, the theatrical window is still critical for success. Bringing older audiences back will be key to success in 2022.

Streaming Wars Wage On in 2022

The streaming landscape remains hyper-competitive with “all hands” for capturing subscribers in 2022. Consumers intend to add to their array of services this year, with 27% of streamers saying they’ll add a subscription in the next three months, and only 19% saying they plan to cancel a subscription. Overall, younger males intend to add more than females.

While it is all about “quality content” to draw subscribers, in choosing a streaming service, three-quarters of consumers say that “value for the money” is the most important factor, followed by having “at least one show they love” (70%) and “making it easy to find new shows to watch” (70%). When asked about streaming services’ performance in these key areas, particularly the discovery of new shows, consumers said that more than half of the services “do not make it easy to find new shows to watch.” Likewise, they report that most services “do not make great recommendations.”

In the absence of strong recommendations from streaming services themselves, recommendations from family and friends (43%) are the top source of discovery for new shows or movies, which is not surprising. Might streaming services be able to play a role here by adding in-platform word-of-mouth functionality?

The key is to hook audiences, and streamers are most likely to invest time in a show that has “believable plot twists” (61%), “continuous, seamless stories” (61%), “a resolution by the end of the series” (58%), and “something to root for” (56%).

As an industry, we need to keep up with the pace of change and apprise our business partners of shifts in audience wants and needs to be competitive. We also need to better understand fandom and how audiences engage with intellectual property across touchpoints to capitalize on all opportunities across screens. Lastly, in this day and age, we need to scale content research programs to quantify demand locally, regionally, and globally.

Toluna Start is an agile platform for keeping tabs on audiences in real-time that can help solve for this. Sign up for a product demo today to learn how you can transform the way you collect insights.

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