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Poll tunes into gender, age gaps in Canadian TV-watching habits

Some Canadians who watched the Super Bowl last Sunday were disappointed with the return of local commercials, after enjoying the advertisements that U.S. companies paid millions of dollars for last year.

Some Canadians who watched the Super Bowl last Sunday were disappointed with the return of local commercials, after enjoying the advertisements that U.S. companies paid millions of dollars for last year.


Sure, there were chances to watch an American network feed of the game “semi-legally” online, but even DAZN, the streaming platform that owns the rights to National Football League games in Canada, was showing what anyone could watch on live television.

Our options for home entertainment have changed dramatically in the past decade. Research Co. recently asked Canadians about television and found a public that is starting to explore alternatives to cable, and showing a degree of hostility towards companies that provide channels we seldom watch.

Personal video recorders, which are sometimes included with cable packages, are a crucial component of the television watcher’s landscape, amounting to 32% of all TV time enjoyed by Canadians. This is higher than the proportion of time spent watching live television programs (25%).

There are some major differences across genders. Women prefer recorded to live (37% to 17%), while men are still favouring live over recorded (34% to 28%). This means that women have a greater opportunity to skip through commercials when watching a show than men.

About a quarter of the time of Canadian television watchers (23%) is spent on sites such as Netflix, CraveTV or Disney+. Women are more likely to stream (28%) than men (17%), but the biggest difference is generational. Streaming accounts for 35% of the time Canadians aged 18 to 34 spend watching television, compared to 24% for those aged 35 to 55 and only 11% for those aged 55 and over.

The penetration of other forms of home entertainment is not as widespread, with Canadians who watch television reporting that 8% of their time is spent with content downloaded from the internet, 6% streaming on a TV network website, and an additional 6% streaming online from a different site.

Canada’s youngest adults, traditionally one of the most coveted demographics for advertisers, are spending only 9% of their television time watching live shows and events. Advertisers will have to find them online, where they are also more likely than all other Canadians to watch downloaded content (12%), stream TV networks (8%) and stream on other websites (10%).

On a regional basis, Quebec is the king of live television at 35%, an issue that is directly related to having a smaller selection of French programming on streaming services.

As Canada’s television watching habits change, the future behaviour of those who have cable at home will be critical. Two in five Canadian cable subscribers (41%) say they have the cheapest package available or a small package, while a similar proportion (40%) pay for a mid-size package with some premium channels. Only 15% of Canadian cable subscribers pay for a large package, with many premium channels.

In what should be a ray of hope for domestic producers, 43% of Canadian cable subscribers say they watch Canadian networks on a daily basis. This is significantly higher than the proportion of cable subscribers who tune in to news channels (36%), U.S. networks (25%) and sports channels (24%) every day. Other channels are ranked significantly lower on daily viewership, such as lifestyle (15%), speciality (13%) and movies (10%).

There are two important issues to ponder when studying the habits of Canada’s cable television subscriber. The exclusive movie channels, which were considered the gemstone of packages in the 1990s and early 2000s, have lost prominence. The emergence of streaming services that can deliver everything a studio produced is making it harder for fans to tune in at a specific time to watch a motion picture that may be available somewhere else immediately.

In a year when Canada will have federal and provincial leadership races, and the United States will feature the most intensely covered presidential campaign ever, half of Canadian cable subscribers aged 55 and over (49%) are watching news networks every day. This explains the ubiquity of insurance and mortgage refinancing ads on CBC News Network, CTV News Channel and CNN.

In any case, current cable subscribers are becoming antsy. Three in five (59%) are disappointed with the variety of programming they get from their current plan, 75% consider that they pay too much money for cable television each month and 83% acknowledge that there are many channels included in their current cable plan that they never watch.

These numbers are hardly an endorsement of an industry, and the animosity is higher among Canadians aged 55 and over. If this group becomes as well versed on the variety of streaming services as millennials, home entertainment in Canada may see even more transformation.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.


Results are based on an online study conducted January 23–26, 2020, among 895 adults in Canada who watch television at home. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.