Skip to content


Unplanned “channel surfing” now split between streaming services and pay tv

Altman Vilandrie & Company’s 10th annual consumer video survey reveals what content matters to viewers in the age of too much TV

Since 2010, Altman Vilandrie & Company has conducted an annual survey on U.S. consumer video viewing habits. The survey chronicles the video preferences of viewers on topics like mobile viewing, program choices, online subscription rates, and more. The survey results have helped guide the business decisions of content providers and distributors and have informed thought leadership on a variety of issues concerning the video and pay TV industries. In the era of “Peak TV” – as evidenced by reports of more than 532 scripted TV shows last year – the survey provides clarity on what viewers want to watch and why.

Fast Facts:

  • Viewers split “Channel Surfing” between pay TV and streaming services
  • 53% of pay TV subscribers say they subscribe because it’s easier to find programs
  • Younger viewers (18-24) overwhelmingly prefer horror (Stranger Things, American Horror Show) and animated comedies for “Must-have” shows
  • Millennials are similar but sprinkle news, sports, and network dramas among their favorites
  • Older viewers (35+) rank news, sports, and the Weather Channel at the top
  • Men like news and sports while women have more varied interests

“Channel Surfing” Takes Modern Twist

Since the TV remote control went mainstream in the early 1980s, the practice of “channel surfing” – or unplanned searching for something to watch – has become an American pastime. For the first time, this decades-old tradition is now evenly split for viewers between streaming services and Pay TV, according to the 10th annual survey of consumer video habits conducted by Altman Vilandrie & Company.
The survey of nearly 5,000 U.S. consumers reveals that 64 percent of viewers 55 and older choose Pay TV as at their preferred source for what has been historically called “channel surfing” source.  In contrast, 66 percent of younger viewers (18-34) choose streaming services for “unplanned viewing” or what could now be called “program surfing.” Overall, younger viewers have propelled streaming services (51%) to a slight majority lead over pay TV (49%) for the preferred program surfing medium.


Still, a majority (53%) of pay TV subscribers indicated they continue to subscribe to pay TV because “it’s easier to find something to watch” than online video. This ease of unplanned viewing – known as the “lean-back” factor – was the third highest rated rationale for pay TV subscription, trailing only “live news and sports” (54% for younger viewers, 52% for older ones) and the importance of watching new programs “when they are first broadcast” (57%).


Gender, and age differences in “Must-have” programming

Respondents were asked to choose their “must-have” programs (drama, comedy, reality, news, sports) from a list of 225+ popular programs from network, cable, and streaming services. Overall, live news/weather and sports led the top choices, with scripted programming also performing well. Reality shows were scarce among the top must-have choices. The results also vary greatly based on the age and gender of the respondents:

  • Youngest viewers (18-24) – The top 15 ranked “must-have” programs were dominated by scripted horror shows (7 programs) and animated comedies (6), with Stranger Things and American Horror Story leading the way. The top nine programs are either horror/fantasy or animated comedies.
  • Millennial viewers (25-34) – This group had more varied interests, adding some live news, sports, and network dramas to the top 15. Stranger Things was still the top program while NFL programming ranked second.
  • Older viewers (35-plus) – Older viewer's top-15 choices were live sports (4), live news/weather (3), and scripted network dramas (6). Local and national news programs were the top-ranked shows. Stranger Things was the top-ranked program available through a streaming service and the only program on any ranked in the top 15 for all three age demographics.
  • Women – Female viewers (18-35) gravitate toward a more diverse TV lineup, mostly eschewing sports (aside from the NFL) and preferring scripted shows.
  • Men – Not surprisingly, male viewers (18-35) flock toward live sports and news and value many more animated programs than women.

Altman Vilandrie & Company fielded the online survey in August 2019 to more than 5,000 respondents provided by Dynata.

Leadership & Oversight

Matt Rivet


Patrick Redmond