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HBO Now surges 40%, Disney+ sees gains, reflecting coronavirus' streaming impact

By Jacob Oller
Best Streaming Genre Shows

The coronavirus has had a severely negative impact on much of the economy, the entertainment industry included. Productions have been halted, premieres delayed, and performances canceled. But with much of the country stuck at home with little to do but sit on the couch, these past few weeks have been streaming's time to shine.

Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, recently said that not only is all viewing up, but "people certainly are watching a lot more Netflix." HBO recently released numbers that reflect this growth more concretely — and should be used as a benchmark when assessing the impact the pandemic has had on streaming traffic in general.

According to a Medium post from HBO, overall TV viewership has increased almost 20 percent in the past week when compared to the four weeks before the pandemic response was in full swing, with HBO's streaming jumping 40 percent from that four-week average. While Westworld saw its third season premiere during this time, fans were bingeing much more than that: Game of Thrones' and His Dark Materials' backlogs both saw more than 50 percent gains. Cases of watching three or more episodes in a day hopped by 65 percent. That's significant.

Other streamers are certainly seeing similar gains — Disney+ and Netflix were asked to reduce video quality to prevent the internet from breaking — but as the world of streaming viewership data is a secretive one, alternative methods need to be considered to judge the coronavirus' impact on Amazon, Disney+, Hulu, and more. Preferably, methods with some numbers attached.

Forbes looked at subscription information, finding that Disney+ — the newcomer to the field — saw an intense acceleration of paying members. "Between Saturday, March 14, 2020, and Monday, March 16, 2020, the number of Disney+ signups more than tripled compared to the same period from the week prior," their report finds. That's a very limited scope, but still a drastic increase. Netflix trailed during the same period, seeing only 47 percent increase, while HBO and Showtime rocketed (90 percent and 78 percent). Apple TV+ barely saw a bump at all: a mere 10 percent rise from the week before. 

There's also search data: how many more people were Googling "Disney+" now that they were stuck at home? Search traffic increased for Disney+ (43.48 percent), HBO Go (23.5 percent), Netflix (17.57 percent), Hulu (8 percent), and Amazon Prime Video (1.17 percent) over the past month. Apple TV+? Well, its search traffic reportedly dropped 14.41 percent during the same timeframe.

Even more anecdotally, those looking for impact can ask the audience members themselves. That's what Hub Entertainment Research did with a "TV and Social Distancing" survey it conducted on March 18 and 19. Asking 1,276 people about their viewing habits, the company found that those who are social distancing were watching more Disney+ (68 percent), Hulu (66 percent), Netflix (66 percent), and Amazon (56 percent) than they were a month ago. When asked whether they'll "sign up for any new TV subscriptions" while social distancing, 28 percent of respondents ages 16 - 24 said yes, as did 24 percent of those ages 25 - 54.

As movie theaters and other bastions of traditional entertainment bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, streaming TV is making the most of its dominance over the couchbound set — and these increases may solidify recent changes to the industry.

March 31 Update:

New information from Neilsen (via The Hollywood Reporter) has provided even more metrics to analyze for streaming viewership. Since it's coming from Neilsen, this data only reflects traditional TV usage in the U.S. - no computers, phones, international numbers, etc - but its reported 34 percent increase in streaming service use is still impressive.

Looking at specifics, Neilsen found that the highest amount of minutes spent on streamers during the week of March 16 went to Netflix. Fans watched about 45.4B minutes on the service - about 29 percent of the total streaming from that time period. YouTube claimed 20 percent, Hulu took 10 percent, and Amaon followed at 9 percent. Everyone else? They didn't have high enough individual totals, so they were lumped into an Other pile that amounted to the final 31 percent.

Of original programming getting the coronavirus boost, there was one notable genre entry: Netflix's Altered Carbon, which saw its second season launch to 425M minutes over that time period.