A new study from Comcast echoes a popular sentiment of many Americans living through COVID-19: “The days are blurring together.”
That’s how the cable and broadband giant described it in a blog post Wednesday, noting that over the past two weeks Monday has become a more popular viewing day than Saturday in its roughly 20 million U.S. video homes. Weekday viewing in general has reached typical weekend levels, and total watch time is way up across the board.
Examining viewership across its Xfinity X1, Flex, Stream and non-X1 set-top boxes, the company found the average household is putting in a full work day’s worth of extra TV viewing (from linear and streaming source) each week. The average customer is now watching 66 hours a week, up from 57 in early March. (Comcast didn’t put an exact number on the increase down to the minute, but estimated it at “8+” hours.)
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Late-night has gained 40% since early March, especially the hours between 11PM to 2AM. That pattern likely correlates with a 6% downturn in viewing between 6AM and 8AM.
News programming has seen a dramatic 64% jump since early March, though it peaked during the week of March 30. Since then, Comcast has registered a 30% decrease in COVID-related commands issued to its remote control voice search. Drama programming has seen an uptick, while reality, comedy and action have remained relatively flat. (See chart below.)
In separate interviews with Deadline in March, Comcast CTO Matt Zelesko and Brynn Lev, VP, Video and Entertainment, offered some insights into how they were responding to COVID-19.
Zelesko noted that Comcast’s goal has long been to make the customer experience as seamless as possible. While many pay-TV providers are now integrating third-party apps into their offerings, Comcast was early to that game, recognizing that broadband would drive those choices even if customers cut the traditional video cord. (Hulu is the latest arrival to Xfinity platforms.) Flex, which is given free to the company’s broadband subscribers, is similar to Roku or other connected devices, offering a range of channels over the internet and surfacing content the consumers want.
During the coronavirus pandemic in particular, Zelesko said, “customers don’t necessarily want to be pogo-sticking from app to app.” The explosion of streaming and subscription options, he added, means that “the customer suddenly has a much harder job of subscribing to all these services and figuring out which one to go to.” (Comcast itself has just rolled out Peacock, the new streaming offering from NBCUniversal.)
Flex and X1 have deliberately sought to point viewers to individual shows rather than networks or distributors. If you like certain genres, stars or programming themes, they will be identified regardless of where they originate.
This orientation is “probably a source of a little bit of tension with content creators and providers themselves,” Zelesko said. “Netflix would just as soon prefer that everyone just go into Netflix and do their discovery there. But if we are content-forward here, then we’re driving much more toward the shows that someone wants to watch, not necessarily where they’re watching it.”
Lev, a 15-year company veteran, has had her hands full during COVID-19 given the unique operating environment and the combination of both constant change and stay-at-home stasis. Her unit has had to continually fine-tune the process of how Comcast is presenting its offering via its menus and programming guide as well as other discovery tools such as voice.
The objective is to strike a balance between machine learning and the human element, she said. “A great portion of our guide is powered by data, for sure. That definitely is a big piece. … We marry the editorial and the human curation on top of that. I’ve implemented more of a way for editors to have that kind of freedom.”
Especially this spring, she added, “The one thing algorithms are not great at is knowing what kind of mood you’re in.”
Here’s a graphic from Comcast illustrating viewing by genre before and during the pandemic:
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