Where Do Viewers Turn as COVID Puts Their Favorite Shows on Pause?


Rebecca Fine
Associate Dir., Research & Media Insights
Sep 3, 2020

Several popular TV shows have been forced to pause production during the pandemic, creating question marks about when they’ll return to the air. The big question is, with popular shows on pause, where are viewers turning their attention?

Samba TV analyzed four shows spanning genres—The Walking Dead, Riverdale, Bachelor In Paradise, and Barry. We looked at households that watched each show’s finale and what other TV content they consumed between April and June 2019, and compared that with their viewership habits for April-June 2020.

One of the clearest trends is an increased interest in news content for two of the four audience groups. This tracks with trends we’ve seen since the very beginning of the pandemic, but it’s interesting to see that in many ways, news programming has become the hot new drama of the spring and early summer.

To best understand how these viewers were filling the gaps in their TV watching calendars, we constructed The Samba TV Consumption Index. This index data was calculated by looking at finale viewers and determining how much TV content was consumed (as measured by number of minutes watched) between April and June in 2019 and 2020 on each of the networks/shows watched during each time period. If a network has a 1.0x index, the audience consumed content on this network on par with the average U.S. household. Any index higher than 1.0x, consumed more content than the average, and any index lower consumed less content than the average.

Let’s take a closer look at the audience behavior of all four shows.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

AMC’s runaway hit about the zombie apocalypse postponed its season 10 finale, pushing it out to October 4. While fans wait for the season to wrap, they’re spending their time watching premium content and more spanish-language content. Unlike the other shows in this study, Walking Dead fans are eschewing news programming in favor of entertainment across a variety of genres.

  • Premium content up in reach. Compared to 2019, premium networks saw increased reach among Walking Dead loyalists. This included HBO Zone (+24%), 5 StarMAX (+23%), FLIX (+20%), Encore (+20%) and Showtime Beyond (+17%), indicating an increased willingness among this audience to pay for content. 
  • Increased interest in entertainment over news. In 2019, eight of the top ten indexing programs for Walking Dead fans were news related. In 2020, none of the top ten were news oriented. Instead, there was a shift towards higher consumption across a variety of genres, including travel, drama/horror, talk shows and sci-fi. This indicates that Walking Dead finale viewers are looking for entertainment, rather than information, to fill the time. 
  • Spanish language content up in consumption. A number of Spanish language networks saw a sharp increase in our Walking Dead consumption index: Fox Deportes (+202%), Galavision (+93%) and ESPN Deportes (+52%). This indicates that Walking Dead viewers are more likely to speak Spanish than the average Samba TV household, and that they are increasingly interested in consuming Spanish-language content.

Bachelor in Paradise (ABC) 

International travel restrictions forced ABC to pause production on season 7 for this popular spinoff from the Bachelor franchise, pushing its air date to 2021. In the meantime, BiP fans are watching reality content on other networks, and doing a little bit of home shopping.

  • Getting their reality fix via other channels. Evidently, fans of Bachelor in Paradise are looking to fill the void with other reality TV programming, as HGTV's reach increased 2% from April 2019 to April 2020, while BRAVO reach was up 3%.
  • Shoppers stuck at home. Bachelor viewers are interested in shopping, and they are increasingly doing so via TV during COVID. QVC drove a consumption index of 2.26x in April 2019, which increased to 2.49x in 2020 - causing it to jump from being the 9th highest indexing channel among this audience to the 3rd.
  • Increased interest in news networks. News consumption among Bachelor in Paradise viewers increased dramatically from April 2019 to April 2020. CNN was the 8th top reaching network in 2020, while it was 30th in 2019. Meanwhile, FOX News jumped from 42nd to 10th. MSNBC remained low on the list at 28th, indicating that this audience prefers slightly more conservative news sources.

Barry (HBO)

HBO’s dark comedy about an assassin turned actor was forced to shut down season 3 production before it even began to air. This audience, likely HBO subscribers, dug into more premium content and explored the wealth of programming options that HBO has to offer. 

  • Less interest in talk shows, more in hard news. Of programs, there was a shift in reach from light-hearted news/talk shows Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (-34%), Jimmy Kimmel Live (-30%), Good Morning America (-25%), Late Night with Seth Meyers (-21%), and The Late Late Show with James Corden (-19%) to more serious news programs. The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (+20%), MSNBC Live (+18%), CNN Tonight with Don Lemon (17%), Erin Burnett OutFront (16%), Cuomo Prime Time (+16%) were the top five programs in terms of reach growth. 
  • Hungry for new content. HBO First Look, which focuses on a behind-the-scenes looks at upcoming films with commentary from cast and crews, saw the greatest increase in consumption index from 2019 to 2020 (+554%), indicating a hunger for new, unreleased entertainment. This may also be a result of HBO subscribers digging into other HBO channels included in their package.

Riverdale (CW)

The CW series was forced to end production early due to COVID-19 concerns, resulting in a truncated fourth season. While fans wait for filming to pick back up for season 5, they turned away from the CW and other broadcast networks and shifted their attention towards the news.

  • Dropping off major broadcast networks. Reach across major broadcast networks decreased from 2019 to 2020, including ABC, FOX, CBS, NBC, and Riverdale’s home network, CW. Each broadcast net was down between 2%-9%. 
  • Shifts towards conservative news programming. A number of conservative news programs saw the greatest shifts in the Riverdale consumption index: Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream (+232%), Fox & Friends First (+224%), FOX & Friends (+199%), and The Greg Gutfeld Show (+184%), among others. While reach overall on Fox News and Fox Business News was down, indicating that fewer Riverdale fans watched those channels, but those who did watch spent more time doing so.

For many popular shows, it’s still not clear what the TV production and debut schedule will look like for the rest of the year. With viewer habits shifting to other content, advertisers need to maintain the agility needed to find their target audience across the dial. Samba TV will continue to look at shifting audience viewing habits, giving all of our partners the analytics they need to make informed decisions in this rapidly changing moment.

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