The Shift to Streaming Was Highly Local

Published: July 16, 2020

This year's shifts in viewing habits have forced marketers to rethink their advertising plans. Almost four months since sheltering at home began, we're seeing a patchwork of local realities and policies emerge. As many parts of the United States slow their opening or actively close, the TV viewing landscape has become regionally and locally diverse.

Advertisers are eager to know how these evolving shelter at home policies will impact streaming and changing viewing habits. So, we've looked at Roku usage patterns across the country between January and May 2020, when many states began sheltering in place. 

Northeast coastal streaming states

Source: Roku Internal Data

Three key patterns have emerged.

Stay-at-home orders had varying regional impacts

We've previously covered the strong surge in streaming experienced across the country and the world. Yet, not every area even within the U.S. experienced this surge similarly, and the impact of stay-at-home orders varied regionally.

Kentucky and Tennessee have similar demographics, but we found that streaming on the Roku platform grew differently in each state following their respective stay-at-home orders being issued. In Kentucky, streaming growth relative to Tennessee actually declined (while still growing rapidly overall). However, when Tennessee issued its stay-at-home order a week later, streaming growth in that state maintained, while Kentucky saw yet another relative decline. So, reactions to stay-at-home orders seemed to vary state-by-state.

Weekly streaming hours per household

Source: Roku Internal Data

Urban homes led rural areas in streaming growth

Second, streaming grew fastest amongst Roku households in the most urban environments and slowest in the most rural areas. Daily life was most heavily disrupted in cities in which social distancing was most challenged. And streaming appears to have provided a helpful alternative.

Source: Roku Internal Data

To illustrate some of these differences, we compared streaming in Watford City, North Dakota (a town of 7,080 as of the 2018 Census) to New York City (home to 8.4 million as of the 2018 Census). While Roku households in Watford City generally streamed more each month, New York City's growth in streaming between January and May of this year tripled that of Watford City. 

Urban homes led the surge in health and fitness content

Urban streamers led the surge in streaming that drove growth in health and fitness content. As gyms became less accessible, streaming appears to have presented a great replacement for staying active. Similarly, urban households led the overall growth in streaming music, films, and TV shows as people looked to unwind and engage.

Like many other urban areas, New York City's surge in streaming on our platform was led by growth in health and fitness content. Interestingly, Watford City saw a decline in streaming of that content. Yet, users in Watford City grew streaming of faith-based content at four times the rate of those in New York City.

Monthly streaming by hours

So, what does this all mean? 

This year’s surge in streaming and the corresponding shifts in viewing habits have forced marketers to rethink their advertising plans in many ways. As states and cities emerge from—or return to—lockdowns while others remain open, marketers need to stay agile to regional, local, and behavioral levels.

For many, growth in daytime streaming supplemented daily activities, which created more opportunities for brands to engage. For others, streaming fitness content represented an entirely new set of behaviors in which brands can participate. To stay agile in this environment, marketers need to understand and adapt to these shifts at a highly local and personal level. 

For future insights, stay connected with updates from Roku here.


Jordan Rost

Head of Ad Marketing, Roku