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The rise of the silver streamer

Cover image for The rise of the silver streamer

Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters

Photo of Tim Mulligan
by Tim Mulligan

MIDiA’s webinar last month on future-proofing growth and curtailing subscriber churn post-pandemic focused on the emerging trends which will define the next year as we emerge from the COVID crisis, and how to retain newly-acquired streamers gained during the great lockdown boom of 2020/21. Driving this surge in engagement are the silver streamers – the 55+ age group who, following the 12% increase in digital entertainment time afford by the pandemic-driven lockdowns, now dominate streaming engagement by virtue of their numerical size and willingness to engage in seemingly digital-native behaviours such as binge viewing (they are the joint largest demographic in Q1 2021 for binge viewing, source: MIDiA Research Q1 2021 Consumer Survey) and video subscriptions (where they are now the second-biggest demographic.)

With the streaming world being remade around silver streamers, the implications for what had previously been a youth-centric ecosystem are profound. An innovative edgy-content-driven environment is now poised for a reset beyond its making. Older, wealthier, lean back, and traditionally more conservative audiences will provide the revenue underpinning the ecosystem and so their consumer needs will come to dominate. At the same time the prevalence of binge viewing among over-55s shows that they are now at the point of becoming streaming-first consumers.

The two sides of silver streamer binge viewing 

The high penetration rates for binge viewing among silver streamers can be interpretated in two distinct (and non-mutually exclusive) ways. Firstly, peak binge viewing occurs among subscription video on demand (SVOD) consumers new to on-demand functionality. So, the initial over-indexing in this behaviour can be perceived as a temporary phenomenon as consumers used to the linear, scheduled and ad-interrupted traditional pay-TV are first exposed predominately to the user experience of streaming. 

The typical streaming behavioural trajectory is for peak binge viewing to be followed by savvy switching, where newly streaming-savvy consumers selectively subscribe and unsubscribe to services based upon particular content which they wish to consume.  So, if the silver streamer affinity for binge viewing follows earlier streaming adoption trends, then there is a real risk of accelerated churn rates impacting the newly-established D2C disruptors as the over-55s flex their digital muscles. 

The second potential interpretation is that the silver streamers’ affinity for binge-viewing is merely the digital version of ‘lean back’ classic TV consumption behaviour, a concept explored in MIDiA’s forthcoming report on The rise of the silver streamer | 55+ demographic reshapes video streaming. The auto-play functionality of episodic programming on streaming services effectively invites lean back behaviour already instilled among older pay-TV-familiar demographics.

Get ready for silver streamer disruption

Whatever the underlying drivers of age 55+ engagement, silver streamers are poised to dramatically transform the streaming video landscape. While the steady opening up of ‘in real life’ (IRL) entertainment alternatives will reduce time available for digital consumption (silver streamers will be the first to be fully vaccinated), the newly-learnt streaming savviness will remain,  and once the contractual bonds of traditional pay-TV are severed they are unlikely to be willingly re-applied  by many (but not all) silver streamers. Streaming will effectively become streaming pay-TV for silver streamers. The D2C services which can provide the four pillars of traditional pay-TV (entertainment, factual, sports and news) and are able to combine breadth with depth through a deep content library will be the ones which secure the custom of these newly empowered digital consumers.

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