2020 was a transformative year in American television. A secular shift to online video was accelerated by coronavirus restrictions, postponement of sporting events, and reductions in programme production. Nevertheless, Americans continue to spend the majority of their television time with live and time-shifted programming.
In the first quarter of 2020, Neilsen reported that adults in America spent an average of 3 hours 43 minutes a day watching live television and a further 33 minutes watching time-shifted programming. That is far more than the 1 hour 6 minutes a day spent on average using television connected devices, including media players, games consoles and disc players. In addition, they spent 34 minutes a day watching video on a computer, tablet or smartphone.
Naturally, these averages blur significant demographic differences. Yet those aged 18-34 spent an average of 1 hour 37 minutes a day watching live television and time-shifted programmes, compared to 1 hour 34 minutes using other devices connected to the television.
The highest rated programme of 2020, the Super Bowl, before the real impact of the coronavirus was felt, was viewed by 102.01 million Americans. That was up on the 98.5 million the previous year but down on the highest average audience of 114.4 million in 2015.
The top regularly scheduled programme was NBC Sunday Night Football, with an average of 16.29 million viewers.
The postponement of the Olympics and other sports events hit television viewing, but the second most popular programme was the procedural drama NCIS on CBS, with an average of 15.42 million viewers.
The highest-rating non-sports single transmission was The Masked Singer on Fox, with an audience of 27.41 million.
NPD Group reported an accelerated transition of viewing from traditional channels to free and subscription streaming video services, as consumers had more options to choose from and more time at home due to coronavirus restrictions.
Those that use online video now use an average of seven streaming services, including subscription and advertising supported services, based on an online survey of more than 5,000 consumers in the United States in October 2020. That is up from an average of five services in April.