Exploring Fantasies and Crafting Identities: Insights from a New ViacomCBS Streaming Study

By Paramount InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Exploring Fantasies and Crafting Identities: Insights from a New ViacomCBS Streaming Study

In the past year, the pandemic has considerably shifted audience habits around content consumption. But are these changes permanent? ViacomCBS commissioned a groundbreaking study using cultural tracking, a nationwide quantitative survey and consumer and expert interviews to craft a highly nuanced look at how audiences navigate their individualized content pathways. The result is The Culture of Streaming, which can be downloaded in full by clicking here.

The Culture of Streaming

Today, on-demand content is more than at-leisure consumption. It's a library of feelings that enables us to explore fantasies and craft identities. "The rise of streaming over the last several years has enabled viewers to have more control over their own entertainment and content toolkit," explained Mary Kate Callen, vice president, creative strategy & cultural intelligence, Velocity, ViacomCBS. Because of the hyper-personalized way we consume content and the disorienting effects of the pandemic, content now connects more deeply with our psyches. This holds valuable lessons for marketers and media planners in three key areas of consumer behavior.

Borderless Identities: With the explosion of accessible streaming content and personalized algorithms, consumers now have the opportunity to explore their identities in unprecedented ways. "In our study, 41% say that there's a show, movie or online video that they love to watch that a stranger would find surprising or funny because of how their life would appear. If people don't always fit into boxes, we need to advance the way we think about finding those audiences. Advanced targeting capabilities can model your audiences and find ways to connect with them wherever they are and beyond a broad demo classification," explained Callen. Accordingly, marketers should consider reimagining their targeting strategies beyond traditional demographics to reach their audiences across the nuanced facets of their identities.

Library for Living:Content helps us find meaning, regulate emotions and guide new areas of personal growth. Self-care, reflection and goal-setting "have been accelerated by access to different content, culture and experiences," Callen noted. High-quality shows have major impacts on people's professional journeys, and even their systems of morality. Therefore, access to quality, culture-defining programming is now a must-have for marketers, as it impacts audiences' drives for self-improvement.

Intimate Screens: Screens are portals not only into content worlds, but also into fan communities that foster belonging, as well as rabbit holes of obsession. The degree to which fans are willing to make sacrifices if threatened with missing their favorite show's finale was surprising; 33% would give up using social media for a week, 19% would give up caffeine for a week, 17% would give up romance for a month, 10% would give up showering for a week, 10% would pay $50 for a single episode, and 7% would forgo a professional haircut. If fans are both tuned into the content they stream, and connecting with other fans across different platforms, "we need to advance the way we think about finding those audiences and where they are," said Callen. The key takeaway for marketers is the need to reach all screens, and push for scale.

The Impact of the Pandemic

"This year, 'what did you do this weekend?' was replaced with 'what are you watching?'" Callen shared. "The desire to connect with others through shared viewing -- either via live, linear or streaming content -- has never been greater." She further noted that the pandemic has accelerated streaming behaviors in a variety of ways.

First, audiences have more control over when and how they consume content. "Thirty percent of Americans say they've snuck in watching content while they were supposed to be working," noted Callen. Second, "Americans are using content as therapy and as a way to process a complex and uncertain world." In this way, content has become a salve to manage emotions. Third, people are even more tuned into the content they love. "Thirty percent found themselves 'going down an internet rabbit hole,' tracking down content across media, and 9% or about 20M thought about getting a tattoo based on a show," explained Angel Bellon, senior director of creative strategy & cultural intelligence at Velocity, ViacomCBS. Finally, as a result of quarantine, many people missed physical connection, so they glommed onto standoms and connected with others via content. In fact, Bellon explained, "we are seeing the rise of content FOMO! People used to regret missing IRL experiences that they saw on social media, but now it's about shows. In our study, we learned that 71% have been excited to talk with someone about something they watched but couldn't because the person hadn't watched it yet."

According to Callen, these current behaviors are accelerators that will last well beyond the pandemic. "As office work and commutes return to normal, some of the time adults spend watching content may reduce, but also may not go away entirely, as remote and hybrid work environments will be more common." For young audiences who have come of age during the pandemic, these new streaming habits are likely to stick. Callen added, "what we do expect to continue post-pandemic is the ability to control your own content toolkit."

The pandemic also created a greater sense of gratitude. Family members were thankful for the extended quality time they shared with each other. "Content brings families and people closer together. Nearly 1/3 of people have deepened their connection with someone because they realized they were fans of the same show," expressed Bellon, who added, "30 percent of people have found someone more attractive because of the TV shows they loved."

The Impact of Content

This past year, content became an outlet, an escape and "a place for storytelling that connects us to our emotional well-being. Fifty percent of people have used a show, movie or online video as a form of therapy. Twenty-eight percent of people claim that a TV show has already helped them become a better person," stated Callen.

According to Bellon, "we see nostalgia as having evolved into more of a timeless present -- nostalgia for your own past, but also nostalgia for a past you yourself didn't experience. Gen Z are watching shows that they weren't alive (or were too young) to have watched the first time. Twenty-six percent of audiences have become obsessed with a show that was popular before they were alive." This exploration of content is expected to last long after the pandemic is over.

The Path Forward

Streaming algorithms may guide content engagement, but trusted platforms also provide curation, helping audiences connect with quality content -- and with each other. At this pivotal moment, marketers can better reach their audiences by adopting three new rules of media planning: 1) Refocus targeting to engage their audiences' borderless identities, 2) Connect brands with quality, culture-defining programming, and 3) Push for scale in order to find audiences where they watch, share, and talk with one another. By utilizing ViacomCBS EyeQ, an integrated suite of streaming and creative ad solutions, buyers can reach audiences through premium, brand-safe digital video, with significant incremental reach to linear, as well as creative, and social. EyeQ enables planners to be where their audiences are, no matter how eclectic, unexpected and varied their navigation through content might be.

Photo courtesy of ViacomCBS.

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