Just a few short months ago, the Hollywood community was abuzz for what looked like the beginning of a new golden age for streaming. Netflix was doubling down on content as newcomers Disney+ and Apple TV+ were celebrating early successes with The Mandalorian and The Morning Show. The much-hyped Quibi was on deck to launch (yesterday), and NBC’s Peacock and HBO Max were looking to make some noise of their own.

The launch of more streaming services promised endless work for content creators, talent, agents and anyone else remotely related to the production and marketing chains. It was going to be awesome for fans as well – more platforms, more subscription models, and more choices than ever before. Then, everything ceased as COVID-19 began its all-out assault, pausing Hollywood productions, shutting movie theaters, sending hundreds of thousands of people to the hospital, and throwing our economy into a tailspin.

So, what happens now?

MarketCast started tracking fan engagement with original content and streaming platforms back in October 2019 using a combination of fan surveys and social media analysis to dive behind the walled gardens. Our Streaming Tracker identifies what’s trending and becoming popular among original series and library classics, as well as analyzes where fans are spending their money.

As the first few weeks of social distancing kicked-in, we were curious to see how the data changed as millions of Americans increased their time at home. Would they keep their same mix of paid streaming services, which averages two paid subscriptions per month, or would they experiment with spending more to find new original and library content to keep themselves and their families occupied?

The first two weeks of March saw a whopping 85 percent surge in streaming activity, according to Nielsen, making it plausible that consumers would spend more on subscriptions. Unfortunately, there is no indication of this happening yet. According to MarketCast’s Streaming Tracker data from February to March 2020, people are using more streaming services now than they were before, but they are spending nearly the exact same amount on them.

MarketCast found that fans are using an average of 3.2 streaming services (combined paid and ad-supported) per month, slightly higher than February 2020. However, they are only paying for an average of 2.2 services per month, flat from the previous period. The increase in streaming service usage, but lack of additional spend, could be attributed to a mix of factors including password sharing, longer trial periods from services like Apple TV+, and the rise of popular ad-supported streaming services, such as Pluto TV.

Of those surveyed by MarketCast, 55 percent would consider adding more paid services if there was content that appealed to them. That’s down 2 percentage points from the previous month. Meanwhile, 37 percent reported being less willing to add more paid streaming services to their spending mix at all, an increase from the previous reporting period.

Consumer Spending Trends: March 2020

What does this mean for newcomers to the space?

While we’re still in the early days of tracking this current crisis, early indications suggest new entrants might be fighting it out with existing services for share of wallet. Afterall, getting them to surpass the magic number of two paid subscription services was a hard enough when consumer confidence was high. How will they do it now, when unemployment is skyrocketing? We may be talking more about churn than subscriber expansion.

If an economic slowdown persists, it will be new territory for the streaming business. During the last economic recession, triggered by the housing crisis in December 2007, Netflix had just unveiled its streaming platform, but they were still shipping millions of shiny discs to our homes. And, while streaming music existed, most fans were still buying and downloading (yes, downloading) their music from the iTunes store.

The next few weeks and months promise to be interesting for entertainment industry insiders and fans alike. Newcomers might experiment with longer trial periods and tiered pricing models, as well as shuffling release schedules to lure new paid subscribers in and keep existing fans engaged. Those with deep vaults of original content might have an advantage over those that had their productions halted, and ad-supported models might see an increase in viewers. Only time will tell.

We’ll keep tracking and providing updates. In the meantime, stay healthy and stay streaming.