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66% of U.S. streamers would rather watch free video content with ads than pay for ad-free subscriptions

A ski lift holding people ascends from a Connected TV remote.

Illustration by Nick DeSantis / Getty / Shutterstock / The Current

Here’s the thing:

As streaming continues to eat cable’s share of U.S. households, a new consumer study offers good news for marketers.

According to research from the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB), 66% of 18- to 34-year-old Americans surveyed say they prefer streaming video content with commercials instead of paying for a subscription without ads. Participants cite the cost benefit and value exchange as primary factors.

Data debrief:

VAB’s report, first published in 2023 highlighting research conducted in November 2022, examines streaming trends marketers should know. Video consumption’s rapid evolution gave VAB an excuse to see how the trends are holding up one year later. The updated findings from March 2024 position the trends in solid or improved standings.

For instance, the 66% of 18- to 34-year-olds who prefer ad-supported services instead of shelling out for commercial-free subscriptions is up 4 percentage points from last year’s 62%.

In the U.S., the 18-to-34 age demographic is also steering the shift toward streaming for long-form content. We learn that 75% of viewers surveyed agree “streaming has replaced traditional TV for me” in terms of accessing their favorite long-form programming, up from 68% in 2023. What’s more, this trend is rising across all American adult age groups: 61% for streamers 18 and older (versus 56% last year); 67% for 35- to 49-year-olds (versus 63% in 2023); and 46% of respondents 50 and over (versus 42% in 2023).

Why it matters:

VAB’s data provides further evidence that audiences are increasingly adopting ad-supported streaming as their preferred source for video content.

Relatedly, additional VAB research released last month points to the action-driving success of pause ads, which appear whenever a streaming viewer pauses a show. The VAB represents major media companies including Hulu, Max, and NBCUniversal, and says all three have incorporated the feature into their services.

These findings, along with ongoing negotiations between streaming providers and sports leagues for broadcast rights, suggest the migration away from linear TV is all but certain to persist.

Graphs shows Americans increasingly shift to streaming long-form content from November 20222 and March 2024 with various age groups.