Half Of U.S. Linear Households Saw Just 8% Of TV Ads In 1H

Underscoring the growing difficulty of reaching much of the U.S. population with linear TV alone, a new study finds that the half of TV viewers who consume the most linear TV saw 92% of TV ad impressions in first-half 2023, while the other half saw just 8% of impressions. 

That’s according to Samba TV’s latest State of Viewership report, which details trends in linear and OTT television viewing based on an analysis of first-party data from millions of smart TVs and a nationwide survey of 2,506 U.S adults by HarrisX fielded between March 23 to 27. Survey results were weighted for age by gender, region, race/ethnicity and income where necessary to reflect U.S. census data. 

While the lower 50% of linear viewers saw just 14 linear TV ads per day, on average, the top 50% of linear viewers were "bombarded” with more than 150 ads per day, according to the analysis — which also found 62% of viewers saying that it takes only two to five repeated viewings of the same ad in a month-long period to worsen their perception of a brand. 



At about 58 million, linear TV’s daily reach actually rose a bit compared to 1H 2021 (53 million) and H2 2022 (54 million).


And half of all Americans still have a monthly cable or satellite TV subscription — although that includes just 35% of Gen Zs, versus 57% of Boomers. 

Despite streaming’s extraordinary growth since the pandemic, it has continued to lag linear somewhat in terms of monthly total hours watched. The exception is months when blockbusters debut on streaming services — like January 2023, when “The Last of Us” bowed on HBO Max. 

Linear hours tend to be particularly elevated in the fall due to football season, but both see time-spent rise in the winter and drop in early summer — making the winter months a particularly good time for cross-platform ad buys, notes Samba.


However, despite YOY fluctuations, streaming’s share of viewing is expected to overtake linear’s as more and more live sporting events and news programming shifts to streaming, where most younger Americans spend their time.

Samba reports that 96 million U.S. household watched OTT content during 1H 2023, and that one in three U.S. streamers subscribe to free, ad-supported streaming services (FAST). 

Looking at major streamers, Netflix, Max, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video all saw lower average daily reach in Q2 2023 versus Q1 — with reach for the newly rebranded Max down 32% from pre-rebrand HBO Max — and limited new content as a result of the SAG-AFTRA strikes is expected to drive view time down further.


Meanwhile, Samba reports that one in three U.S. adults now use FAST services, and 90% watch the lower-priced, ad-supported tiers (AVODs) of premium, subscription-based streaming services (SVODs).

More than two-thirds (65%) of Millennials say they would consider subscribing to a discounted streaming service if it meant watching ads (AVOD), and 32% subscribe to FAST services.

eMarketer data included in Samba’s report show that each of the major FAST platforms were showing year-over-year growth in viewership as of February 2023, while Netflix and Peacock were showing slight declines. Amazon’s Freevee was showing the highest growth among FAST services — up 11% year-over-year, compared to Prime Video’s 3% gain.  


At the same time, Antenna data as of June show 25% of all ad-supported, discounted “premium” subscription-based streaming service (AVOD) subs being ad-supported versus 75% ad-free.

And through the end of May, about one in three sign-ups for Disney+, and one in five sign-ups for Netflix, were for their ad-supported plans.


Samba TV’s data also shows eight in 10 U.S. adults using a second device while watching TV on their big home screens, and one in five having made purchases through QR codes shown on a TV ad. 

Other findings: 

Importantly, across both traditional and streaming TV, Black and Hispanic audiences are far under-reached compared to their shares of the U.S. population, while White audiences are far over-reached.

While Netflix and Disney+ were the top two platforms in subscriber retention, most streamers increased their retention in spite of declining reach in the first half of the year. Netflix posted the largest gains in households watching multiple programs on a service, with a 19% increase versus last half, followed by Paramount+, at 14%.

Six months after streaming leaders unveiled ad-supported tiers, the data shows a strong link between binge-watching and audience retention. Nearly three quarters (72%) of U.S. adults identify as binge-watchers, and YTD in 2023, an average of 47% of households watched the whole seasons of the top streaming series whose episodes were released all at once within the first five days of their release.

Streaming platforms are offering a glimpse into how live entertainment content will fare streamed. Six in 10 Netflix and Disney+ subscribers say they would watch live events if those services offered more of them.

Although dramas account for just 8% of programming spend for global streamers, the genre accounted for more than 50% of the top 50 streaming shows during 1H 2023.  Rounding out the top three genres, with more than a quarter of the most-watched shows each, were thrillers and comedies, typically accounting for the first- and third-largest portions of original content spend, respectively. Crime and documentary programming came in fourth and fifth, indicating that while these mainstays for original content are still yielding strong viewership, investing in dramas may yield larger audiences.

More AVOD offerings are contributing to consumers opting to watch three or four services as opposed to one or two. One in four premium SVOD subscriptions were ad-supported (AVOD) in 2023.

Throughout the first half of the year, about half of households watched two or fewer streaming services, while most watched three or fewer. Despite seemingly limitless options of content to watch across platforms, people remain unlikely to watch more than a few services over the course of a six-month period.

1 comment about "Half Of U.S. Linear Households Saw Just 8% Of TV Ads In 1H".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 14, 2023 at 7:36 a.m.

    The problem with smartset panels---even if they employ seemingly huge samples, are assumed be representative of the total TV set population and the data is correctly processed, is that all that is being measured is whether ad an is displayed on a screen. So when we are told that 50% of U.S. "viewers" were exposed to 92% of the "linear TV" ads what they really mean is that 50% of the smartsets in their panel displayed 92% of  the commercial presentations.

    People studies typically  report something similar, namely that 40% of all adults--the top two viewing quintiles---do  70-75% of all viewing----but these studies account for activity on old fashioned sets---which is still sizeable-----and adults who don't have smartsets. The same studies reports even greater concentrations of usage for other media platforms---online, radio, print, OOH, and, yes, streaming. Which is why media planners must consider many combinations of media---not just a single choice---if they want to maximize reach. 

    Speaking of reach, it is not true that half of U.S. consumers---er, I mean smartsets----can't be reached by "linear TV". When all of the ways that linear content is accessed---cable, over-the- air reception, apps----are considered the true  figure  is more like 20%. In fact a recent GFK/MRI study reported that  77% of  its adult respondents watched "linear TV" on an aerage day. This may be a tad inflated---as some respondents may not be certain how they obtained their program content---- but it stands in sharp contrast to the "finding" that linear TV's reach is only 50% over an entire six-month period.

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