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Older Audiences Flock to Streaming, Younger Audience Growth Slows

Steve Anderson

There’s a fundamental shift in the streaming market taking place right now. Younger folks, long seen as the great bastion of streaming video, are increasingly pursuing several forms of entertainment at once, including video games and in-person theatrical movie viewing. The older folks, meanwhile, are staying home, and sticking to streaming so hard that it’s actually starting to skew the core demographics at places like Netflix.

A recent study from Ampere Analysis shows the proportion of Netflix’s audience over 45-years-old is up 22 percent in the last two years. On average, growth for younger consumers was just five percent in that same time frame. Some markets are now at the point where a 40-year-old was more likely to be a Netflix subscriber than his 20-year-old counterpart.

Fear of the pandemic may be playing a role in this trend. Several major theatrical-only releases, including Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, featured an audience that was nearly half young people under the age of 35. Before the pandemic hit, they represented merely a third of the audience. That’s likely less attributable to a surge in young filmgoers and more a matter of older viewers simply opting out.

If younger viewers aren’t streaming as much, where are they? A Hub Entertainment Research study found that younger people were putting a lot more time into gaming than into streaming. It noted that the average session for weekly console gamers in 2019 was about 90 minutes. Today, it’s up around 110 minutes.

These numbers alone are telling, but they’re just where things start. We’ve talked before about the “silver streamer” and the role these older streaming video customers play in the market. A new study out from Midia revealed that while those over 55 may only represent about 20 percent of streaming video users, they are the single largest binge-watching group there is. Those between 30 and 34 made up the second largest group.

Midia’s Tim Mulligan noted that this is likely to change the face of streaming video somewhat in the future. The over-55 cohort, Mulligan noted, has a combination of disposable income and free time. That’s a combination tailor-made for streaming, and catering to that demographic will be, as Mulligan puts it “…key to the mainstreaming and financial viability of the D2C majors.”

We know that older streamers are becoming increasingly vital when it comes to streaming video. Certainly, other demographics are contributing, but younger audiences are splitting their time between other platforms and other kinds of entertainment altogether. They also don’t have the kind of free time and disposable income that their older counterparts have.

It’s safe to say that we’re going to see more of that original programming development going toward older people’s tastes and interests. With companies like Netflix planning on bolstering their original programming—Netflix still wants to be the best studio in town—and older folks increasingly tuning in, the youth market is no longer the panacea it once was.

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