Pandemic turns more boomers into streamers — what does that mean for rural ISPs?

November 11, 2020By Andy Johns

Millennials and Gen Xers aren’t the only ones streaming episodes of “Cobra Kai,” “Tiger King” and “The Mandalorian.” 

After a significant uptick in older demographic groups adding new platforms this spring, many boomers looked at streaming services and decided “this is the way.”

Nielsen recently determined the desire for more video content during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic drove older Americans to join and learn to use streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video and Disney+.

In a video interview, Brian Fuhrer, SVP, product strategy at Nielsen, explained the holiday season is usually the main time when Americans adopt new devices and platforms. He calls that adoption “streaming enablements.” The isolation orders and COVID-19 concerns this spring, however, led to streaming enablements at a rate he described as the equivalent of four holiday seasons rolled into one. 

“People were figuring out how to get access to new content while at the same time new services were being introduced, so it was really a perfect storm for ways to get content,” he said.  

These conclusions are backed up by the massive numbers of new subscribers reported by the streaming services

Nielsen’s headline proclaiming 2020’sstreaming enablement has “changed the media landscape,” might be a bit overstated, but their findings should be of interest to rural broadband providers. 


Impact of Streaming Boomers

For years, we’ve talked with our industry friends about getting older users over their fear of trying Hulu or YouTube TV on a FireStick or Roku. That’s been a major hurdle to getting those customers to value higher speed connections and upgrade their accounts. This Nielsen data suggests the pandemic has shaken things up. 

Now, older demographic groups account for 26% of all streaming minutes viewed, up from 19% a year ago.

“It may have taken them longer to embrace the technology,” the Nielsen study states. “Now that they have, there is no indication they are going to give up streaming in the future.” 

When I have video questions, I usually reach out to frequent StoryConnect: The Podcast guest Scott Meyer at Innovative Systems

Scott told me 2020 has been huge for linear video as well as streaming. Viewership numbers are traditionally always higher in the fall and winter as the days grow shorter and the weather is less amenable to outside activities. This summer, however — even with many sports cutting their seasons short — viewership in rural markets boomed to levels even higher than last fall. Innovative’s research also shows 52% of all rural customers now use streaming services, up from 23% in 2016. 

Scott pointed me to reports showing that streaming subscriptions and paid cable or IPTV subscriptions aren’t mutually exclusive

“They’re paying for both,” he said. 

A recent Leichtman Research Group study showed 20% of American households are streaming only, and 14% were paid linear video only, but a whopping 60% pay for both streaming service and IPTV, satellite or cable. The survey reports 81% of households with primary viewers 55 years or older have paid linear video service. 


My takeaway: 

Linear video service via cable, IPTV or satellite isn’t going away anytime soon, but the pandemic has accelerated the timeline for people — even older folks — to try out and adopt streaming platforms. 


What does this mean for rural broadband providers? 

  • Trials lead to conversions: If you’re not making a TV play, this should make you feel good that even older demos are showing a tendency to embrace streaming if you can just get them to try it.
  • Options remain important. If you are in the cable or IPTV business and thinking of getting out, this may seem like permission to do so. However, Scott pointed me to some research showing that 45% of users would seek out another provider instead of switching to streaming
  • Target new streamers. A new segment of people just getting into streaming are probably good prospects for upgraded speed packages. Can your network data point you to those people for a specific sales push?
  • Customer education is key for streaming adoption. Whether it’s demos at your events, instructional videos, magazine articles or other training, a community-based provider is in a great position to show users how to use streaming platforms. This not only drives upgrade orders when they need higher speeds for streaming, but also reinforces your status as a trusted technology partner.
  • Consider streaming advertising options. Hulu is making ad buys more accessible for small businesses, and that might be a viable option to advertise your broadband service. Obviously, pricing and details play a big role — we’ve seen the minimum order amounts for music streaming platforms like Pandora and Spotify price themselves out of the market for most independent rural ISPs — but consider the prospect of being able to market your fantastic fiber broadband service to people you already know are big streamers in a certain geographic area. That’s a good market if the price is right. Hulu is conducting beta testing for a small-business self-serve program that WordSouth has applied to be a part of. We’ll let you know if we are approved and can help you advertise on Hulu, but you can also apply to be a part of the beta test yourself. 


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