With so many sources to choose from, what roles do each of them play in the viewing habits of global audiences?

This was a key question posed in “TV RE[DEFINED],” a recent research project by Viacom International Media Networks that explores how people are watching television in this transforming viewing environment. This study sheds light on how global viewers discover and consume content, illustrating how content creators and TV providers can redefine their relationship with viewers in the new TV landscape. The full summary is available here.

In this post, we’re going to delve into the interplay between TV sources and viewer behavior:

Even though viewers have access to many sources, they still tune into linear TV. Viewers 12 to 34 have on average four other sources for watching TV content. However, 69% still start their path of viewing with linear TV. (It’s even higher for kids 6 to 12, with 76% starting with linear TV.) And for a large segment of viewers, the path never deviates to other sources: more than half (55%) reported only watching linear TV in the last 24 hours.

Viewers look to television for unique active and passive experiences—and linear TV offers both. The passive experience is important: 7 in 10 viewers report that they enjoy watching TV because they don’t have to think too hard about what to watch, they just come across shows they love. That old habit of vegging in front of the TV is alive and well around the globe. Viewers place equal value on a more proactive mode of viewing: 7 in 10 also feel it’s important to watch new episodes of TV shows they love when they are first shown on TV. Linear TV also excels at satisfying this desire.

On-demand services require viewers to think more before making their selections. Choosing a show is easy for people in “catch-up” mode, but the process is less straightforward when they’re unsure of what to choose next. Sometimes, however, viewers look to content for escapism—and in those situations, on-demand services have an advantage.

Different sources play different roles for viewers. At the top of the viewing hierarchy is linear TV, which is consumers’ go-to choice. For catch-up viewing, audiences turn to DVRs, VOD via their TV providers, and TV channel sites and apps. Subscription VOD (SVOD) services like Netflix (currently the only available source of this kind in most areas outside the US) are the turn-to source for marathon viewing. Free video sites such as YouTube are a destination for checking out new shows (though once committed to watching, viewers typically seek out a better experience via linear TV or “catch-up” sources). “Direct to Own” (DTO) sources like iTunes and Google Play are an occasional treat for viewers who really want to see a show and have no option but to pay. Torrent sites are a last resort reserved for when a show is unavailable via all other sources (and more common in countries with content restrictions).

Global viewers are more aware of TV shows available across borders—and they expect access to them. Being unable to access or find content that they want to see are the two most frustrating hurdles for TV viewers around the world. Their irritation may be the reason viewers have become so effective at using secondary sources to negotiate hurdles—they expect these sources to connect them with the content they seek in an easy and user-friendly way. If those sources fall through, viewers may turn to less legitimate means, such as illegal download sites or VPNs/proxy servers.