TV Usage Spikes Even More Amid Coronavirus Quarantines

A woman uses a wireless controller to play a boxing game on a Nintendo Wii - Getty - H 2020
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TV usage in the U.S. continues to spike amid widespread stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic. The latest figures from Nielsen show double-digit increases for the week of March 16 over the previous week.

Total TV usage — including live and delayed viewing, streaming and use of video-game consoles — was already on the rise prior to last week, having risen by 6 percent in the second week of March compared to the previous week. That figure grew by 18 percent in the week of March 16-22. With movie theaters, restaurants and bars shuttered and sporting events canceled, content delivered through TV sets has become one of the few entertainment options still available. 

Nielsen's total TV usage statistic measures all devices across all dayparts. The ratings service notes that the biggest increases in the week of March 16 came among teenagers, whose TV time jumped 43 percent, and kids under 12, who watched 31 percent more than the previous week. 

Among all age groups, and again particularly among kids no longer attending school, video game consoles had the largest usage increases. Across all ages, console use (which also includes those used for TV streaming) rose by 35 percent last week. Among kids 2-11, gaming rose by 45 percent, and in the 12-17 age group, it was up by a whopping 59 percent.

Usage of internet-connected devices like Google Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV and smart TV apps was up by 28 percent over the previous week, suggesting a big jump in streaming. Live TV viewing — the largest component of total usage by far, accounting for about 63 percent of the total — was up by 14 percent. A host of shows, from dramas like Chicago Fire to unscripted stalwart Survivor to network evening news, all set multi-month or even multiyear highs in total viewers.

Time-shifted viewing rose by 10 percent vs. the week of March 9, and even physical media made a comeback. Though it is the smallest part of Nielsen's total usage metric, DVD playback grew by 28 percent over the prior week.

Among local markets, Austin (up 21.8 percent) and Denver (up 21.7 percent) had the biggest week-to-week increases in TV use. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston and New York also rose by at least 20 percent.