SAN FRANCISCO — It’s finally happened: Americans now spend more time on their phones and tablets than they do watching TV.
In the United States, adults will spend an average of 3 hours and 43 minutes each day on their smartphones, feature phones and tablets this year, eight more minutes than they’ll spend watching TV, according to a forecast released Wednesday by research firm eMarketer.
The change has been years in the making, as smartphones have become more ubiquitous and the ways people use their devices has shifted. Phones now let you do more than steal quick glances at social media, and streaming shows and movies on the smaller, portable screens has become commonplace.
“There is far more content today than there was even a couple of years ago,” said Monica Peart, a senior forecasting director at eMarketer, referring to the growth of streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu. “All of this is driving the need or desire to be on the smartphone.”
The gap between the amount of time spent on mobile devices and TV has narrowed dramatically over time. Last year, American adults spent nine minutes more watching TV than looking at their phones and tablets, eMarketer said. But TV watching used to be more dominant — just five years ago, adults spent two hours more watching TV than using mobile devices, the firm said.
The forecast follows other reports, including one by Nielsen, that indicate audiences are spending less time with traditional television. In the third quarter of 2018, Nielsen said American adults on average spent 4 hours and 14 minutes each day on live or time shifted TV, 11 minutes less than a year earlier. Time spent on apps and the web on smartphones and tablets in the third quarter was 3 hours and 14 minutes, 17 minutes more than a year earlier, Nielsen said.
The difference in time was even more pronounced for younger Americans, with people 18 to 34 spending 1 hour and 51 minutes on live and time-shifted TV and 3 hours and 25 minutes on the web or apps on smartphone and tablets in the third quarter of last year, Nielsen said.
Over time, eMarketer expects the trend to continue. In 2021, eMarketer estimates adults will spend 3 hours and 54 minutes on their mobile devices, compared to 3 hours and 22 minutes watching TV.
The eMarketer estimates did not factor in voice calls on mobile devices, but did consider most other mobile uses. On smartphones and tablets, adults spend about 30% of their time on audio-related apps that allow them to listen to radio and podcasts, eMarketer said. Social network apps take up about 24% of user’s mobile time and video apps took up 19% in 2019, the firm said.
For its TV-watching data, eMarketer’s report focused on time spent on TVs that were not internet connected. Time spent on other connected devices, which include Roku and Google Chromecast, were broken out into a separate category in eMarketer’s forecast, representing an average of just 53 minutes of an American adult’s day in 2019. That amount of time is expected to grow to 1 hour and 4 minutes a day in 2021, the firm said.
Among the most striking statistics in the eMarketer report is the rise of digital video streaming, which is up eight minutes from last year. As more viewers cut the cord, digital video is replacing traditional TV watching time, eMarketer said. For example, this year, digital video will take up 1 hour and 37 minutes and will grow to 1 hour and 49 minutes in 2021, the research firm said.
Unlike traditional television, streaming services play into consumers’ desires to pick what they want to watch on their screens from a library at any given time and to download content to view on the go.
Companies including Netflix, Amazon and Apple have invested heavily in adding shows and films for their streaming platforms, causing a boom for industries including animation. Last year, Netflix was expected to spend as much as $13 billion on original or licensed content.
Consumers “are becoming more and more choosy about what they are going to watch at what time,” Peart said. “It’s much more of a case of choosing when and how you would like to view (shows and movies) as opposed to needing to sit there as the programmers have designed it.”
Traditional television networks and studios have launched or are in the process of launching their own streaming services in a bid to capture those consumers. Disney will unveil its streaming service, Disney+, later this year starting at $6.99 a month.