Analysis: Viewers crave streaming simplicity not more fragmentation

The streaming television landscape has undergone a seismic shift in the past few years. What was once a sparse field of niche services has evolved into an oversaturated market teeming with both general entertainment and specialized platforms. However, behind the breathless hype cycles and endless flow of new streaming options lies a maturing industry shaped as much by audience preferences as by provider priorities.

Recent research illuminates emerging trends in consumer behaviors that reflect and inform key developments on the provider side.

Today’s audiences seek greater control over their streaming experiences, including options for ad-supported content, unified access across services, and integration with larger brand ecosystems. Meanwhile, providers walk the tightrope of appealing to diverse demographics amidst a saturating market.

As the streaming industry’s growth stabilizes, consumer attitudes and behaviors will likely continue steering its future direction. Recent findings on audience preferences and platform strategies provide crucial context for understanding this evolving ecosystem. So let’s dive into some of the data.

Illusion of Choice: Saturation and streaming fatigue

Amidst the proliferation of streaming platforms, research reveals consumers feel increasingly overwhelmed by choice.

According to Kantar, the U.S. streaming market is reaching near-total saturation, with 95% of American households subscribing to at least one service. However, this breadth of options has bred dissatisfaction. Per Amdocs, 82% of Americans want a unified streaming portal offering simplified access to content across services, evidencing frustration with navigating an ever-expanding array of platform interfaces and subscriptions.

These findings suggest that the streaming industry’s fixation on growth has fueled saturation. While providers continue expanding offerings, audiences now desire less choice, not more.

Streamlining options into unified platforms or service bundles may become imperative to reducing subscriber fatigue. For example, some platforms like Amazon Prime Video now offer popular add-ons integrating other major services. Such moves acknowledge the market’s maturity by consolidating consumer access rather than endlessly fragmenting.


Ad-Supported Content: Preference for cost savings

Interestingly, saturation accompanies growing consumer openness to ad-supported streaming options.

Per Hub Research, nearly 40% of viewers now prefer fewer ads in services. However, two-thirds also express willingness to accept ads if they reduce subscription costs. Compared to just six months ago, audiences exhibit greater inclination towards ad-supported platforms. This likely reflects economic pressures tightening household budgets; streaming viewers today appear largely amenable to ads if they provide savings.

In response, ad-based models are proliferating through both free, ad-supported TV (FAST) services and ad-supported tiers on paid platforms. However, research from Kantar reveals slowing adoption for both FAST and ad-supported VOD in late 2022, despite aggressive holiday promotions. This suggests that while consumers accept ads to lower costs, they still prefer paid subscriptions overall.

Successful ad-supported options will likely balance modest subscription fees with limited, non-invasive advertising.

Tailoring to Demographics: Gauging generational preferences

Demographic nuances also shape streaming’s future.

For example, Gen Z viewers have emerged as a key streaming segment. Per Horowitz Research, 70% of Gen Z regularly watches full-length TV on streaming services while also consuming high volumes of short-form video. On average, Gen Z subscribers access about six platforms — evidence of still-rising adoption among younger audiences amidst overall market saturation.

Providers are responding with youth-centered offerings, like YouTube’s continued success across age groups. However, Gen Z preferences remain in flux.

According to Kantar, free ad-supported services are gaining appeal compared to paid subscriptions. Though, as Gen Z earnings increase over time, willingness to pay for premium, ad-free tiers may also rise. Still, the key insight is that audiences have heterogeneous preferences dictated by demographic factors like age, income, and viewing habits. Providers must undertake granular audience segmentation to tailor offerings accordingly.

Competition from Smart TV: The living room’s new centerpiece

However, streaming services also increasingly compete with tech developments beyond their direct control — the rapid growth of smart TVs.

Parks Associates reveals that only 5% of U.S. households rely solely on traditional pay TV. Instead, smart TV apps have emerged as the new living room entertainment hub. Per Hub Research, 32% of viewers now initiate streaming sessions through smart TV apps rather than external devices.

As smart TV adoption advances, their onboard streaming apps could disrupt the competitive landscape. Built-in smart TV interfaces also offer expanded advertising capabilities — leveraging viewing data to enable more personalized, targeted marketing, for instance. Consequently, streaming players will likely need to forge direct partnerships with smart TV manufacturers to maintain prime placement on proprietary platforms.

Interactive and Shoppable TV: New methods of engagement

Speaking of TV advertising, streaming further propels ongoing experimentation with interactive and shoppable ad formats aimed at better-engaging viewers. Per LG Ad Solutions, over 50% of consumers express interest in using TVs to directly purchase products seen in commercials. Younger demographics like Gen Z are especially keen to embrace transactional video ads – popularized overseas through livestream shopping.


These interactive advertisements represent untapped potential for streaming monetization beyond traditional pre-roll and banner ads. They blur the lines between entertainment content and retail shopping, delivering hybrid informational and transactional experiences.

While still in the early days, such innovations foreshadow TV advertising’s convergence with digital commerce amidst streaming’s ongoing disruption of conventional television.

A consumer-centric future?

Streaming stands at a decisive crossroads.

The era of growth through an ever-expanding glut of platforms is over. We’ve reached peak saturation; consumers are overwhelmed by a dizzying array of mostly indistinguishable services. Streaming risks collapsing under its own weight if companies continue pursuing platform proliferation and mutually assured disruption.

Survival now depends on actually listening to what audiences want: convenience, control, and affordability.

Providers who resist this consumer-centric transition cling to an outdated mindset that takes viewers for granted. They wrongly assume having the most to offer equals market dominance. But attention is finite.

Streaming can only advance by improving how viewers interact with content, not drowning them in excess choice.

The path forward is clear for those willing: consolidate, integrate, simplify. Partner with smart TV ecosystems instead of confronting them. Make ads less invasive. Experiment with interactivity and transactions.

Ultimately, stop chasing growth for its own sake. Deliver tangible value to users, not shareholders. Streaming remains ripe for visionary innovation even amidst market maturity. This potential hinges on providers pivoting from a platform-first to audience-first ethos. A consumer-centric streaming landscape could unfold, but only if companies seize the moment to reinvent themselves around their customers’ needs and preferences. The time for change is now.

Dak DillonDak Dillon is NewscastStudio's Editor In Chief. Dak has covered broadcast technology, engineering and design for over 15 years and has practical experience in the industry including a Promax Gold Award and multiple regional Emmy nominations.

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