New Study Reveals Surprising Content Viewing Habits for 2021, Forecasting How Social Media Will Evolve This Year

The report from global digital studio TheSoul Publishing found that consumers are seeking experiential features more than ever before and multi-screening is becoming the norm, with unique insights as to where live content is viewed on social media

Today, TheSoul Publishing – the award-winning, global digital studio delivering positive video content that soars on social media and streaming platforms – is releasing the results of its study on consumer content trends. The survey included responses from more than 2,000 men and women in the United States to understand how their viewing and content consumption habits have changed over 2021.

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Key findings pointed to numerous trends tied to the growth of the digital universe and the rise of short-form and experiential video content across social media:

“Multi-screening” is the new normal. Seventy-one percent of Americans shared that they regularly multi-screen when relaxing. This is up by 13% when compared to 2020 (63%); however, older generations are less likely to multi-screen with only 45% of those aged 55 or older engaging in the practice compared to 71% of those aged 16-24,  82% of 25-34 and 77% between 35-44. Following the massive rise in remote work culture, has multi-screening become the new multitasking as people consume a variety of content at once? With younger generations adapting quicker to new platforms, it’s no surprise younger content consumers are conditioned to multi-screen with more frequency.

Short-form content has given rise to mobile viewing. More than two-thirds (71%) of total respondents watch content primarily on their phones, which is a +13% increase from 2020 (63%), with women (76%) watching short-form content much more frequently on their phone than men (61%). Also, U.S. consumers reported watching less content on their computers in 2021 (13%) compared to 2020 (21%). With this, last year, computer usage dropped for women (2021: 9%, 2020: 18%) and men (2021: 18%, 2020: 27%) when compared to the previous year, indicating that viewing on the go and consuming content with mobile compatibility are being prioritized by consumers.

Interactive and live content are no longer consumer wants, they’re expectations.
Across the U.S., respondents would like to see more virtual reality (30%), shopping features (28%), gaming content (27%), and augmented reality (19%) in their short-form video content suggesting consumers no longer want to consume, but also partake. This means creators with a call-to-action of interactive and live content will better capture consumers’ attention in the years to come.

Where are we watching “live”? Currently, more than half of Americans share that they are more likely to watch “live” content on YouTube (52%) followed by Facebook (43%), TikTok and Instagram (33% each), then Snap (15%) and Twitter (12%). Men (37%) in the US watch Instagram Live more than women (31%); while women (38%) watch more live content on TikTok compared to men (25%). Half of those aged 16-24 (50%) are watching live content on TikTok more than any other platform.

Fun and positive online content is a necessity – not a superfluity. You are what you consume. Overall, 81% of U.S. respondents strongly agreed (40%) or agreed (41%) that “fun and positive online video content will become an even more important and popular source of entertainment.” This is up slightly from 2020 when 78% of U.S. consumers strongly agreed (35%) or agreed (43%) with the same notion.

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Attention spans are waning, and content needs are changing as a result.
U.S. consumers report an increase in the inability to concentrate when reading long articles or watching long video content, which includes videos of 10 minutes or longer. Nearly half (49%) of U.S. respondents strongly agreed (23%) or agreed (26%) with this sentiment. This is up from 42% strongly agreeing (18%) or agreeing (24%) with this statement in 2020. More than one-quarter of men (29%) expressed this sentiment, compared to 20% of women; in 2020 24% of men reported this, versus 14% of women.

Knowing your audience is key to growth. What to watch next? In the U.S., respondents shared that YouTube (25%) offers the best recommendations for content followed by Netflix (18%), TikTok (13%), and Amazon Prime (9%) – leaving Peacock (2%) at the end of the list. Additionally, Americans are demonstrating confidence in TikTok, with 28% of U.S. consumers saying that TikTok will be the most popular platform in 2026. Further, one-fifth (20%) of respondents believed YouTube will be the most popular platform in five years, followed by Facebook (17%) and Instagram (10%), with some reluctant to make a guess at all (13%). It’s clear that viewers are becoming more conscious of trends and how platforms react to their preferences, which will ultimately impact where they choose to consume content in the future.

The instruction manual is dead. Nearly two-thirds of people (65%) learn new skills on YouTube, while only 17% are learning new skills from parents and grandparents. Printed manuals are the least popular with just 14% of people turning to those for guidance. While YouTube is dominant in helping with skill-building, 42% of people ages 16 – 24 are looking to TikTok, while only 6% of people ages 55 and older are using that platform.

Laughs, Music and Gaming. In the U.S., respondents shared that they’re watching more short-form videos surrounding music (53%) and comedy (51%) now than they were six months ago. Additionally 35% of total participants answered they were more likely to watch gaming videos today compared to six months ago.

Among U.S. men, content showcasing music (53%), comedy (52%), gaming (48%), educational (38%), and cooking/baking (34%) were selected as being watched more now than six months ago. The top selections for U.S. women:  music (52%), comedy (50%), cooking/baking (48%), beauty (41%), and DIY / crafting (40%).

In regards to the results of the survey: “As a global content studio, we’re always keeping our finger on the pulse of what’s next – whether it be upcoming content trends or major shifts in consumer behavior,” said TheSoul Publishing’s VP of Platform Partnerships, Victor Potrel. “The findings from TheSoul Publishing’s study show what we know to be true – that audiences are constantly evolving, especially  with today’s fast-paced social media landscape. Viewers, more than ever, want to be a part of the experience, and content creators have to fulfill these needs to find success.”

While it’s no surprise that the social landscape is constantly unearthing new digital trends, these survey findings make it evident how intertwined reality and the virtual landscape have become. With the advancement of the metaverse, consumers not only expect more from their digital experiences, but they rely, adapt, and build habits around  them, making the role of content creators increasingly important.

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