In 2014, we identified that global consumers use a “Hierarchy of Screens” for choosing how to watch content. In the ensuing four years, the television ecosystem has become much more complex, with additional viewing options and services seemingly springing up every month. In fact, the number of devices the average consumer now uses to watch TV content on has grown to 10.5, up from 7.7 in 2014. Our recent TV Matters project revealed that while consumers are using all of these screens in some capacity, they continue to place the TV set at the very top of the pyramid. The king of the “Hierarchy of Screens” remains unchanged and intact.

When asked which screen was their favorite, 70% of 6- to 44-year-olds across 14 countries chose the TV set – followed by laptop/desktop computers (22%), tablets (4%) and smartphones (4%).

Viewers gravitate toward the best screen available to them – and that is most often the TV set. Homes across the globe continue to center around a large TV screen with all the comfortable furniture pointing at it. And the average TV set just keeps getting bigger, projected to rise to 46.7 inches by 2020, up more than 6 inches from 2015 (source: gfk). Perfect conditions for co-viewing.

People use smaller screens only when they have to.

Only when that communal viewing favorite is not available to them do they migrate to other, smaller screens. That generally happens in three circumstances:

  1. The TV set is occupied. In other words, somebody is already watching something and it’s not what a prospective viewer wants to see.
  2. There is no TV set available. For example, when a person is on the road, in public transport, or in a temporary location.
  3. The consumer wants to watch alone. This desire for more private solo viewing often applies to teens who don’t want to hang out with the rest of their family, kids and teens after bedtime, and parents seeking some time to themselves.

If one of these three circumstances comes into play, viewers will often turn to the next largest available, convenient and connected screen – laptop/desktop computers, tablets and smartphones. (Smartphones have an edge for private solo viewing, as their small size can limit co-viewing from over the shoulder.)

The preference for TV sets holds true for younger audiences as well, influenced by their living situation.

Among 18- 24-year-olds, TV sets remain their top choice (53%), though this preference is less dramatic than for other age groups. Interestingly, it’s not tablets or smartphones that come next but the humble PC/laptop (38%). Computers’ larger screen size aligns with young adults’ preference for professionally produced video content.

When analyzing this age group in even more detail, it becomes clear that screen preference is closely related to living situation. Young adults living with their parents or with roommates– situations in which they may not be in control of a shared TV set or might need privacy – have an above-average preference for viewing on computers. They are joined by those living on their own, some of whom have not yet invested in their own TV set.

When young adults aged 18 to 24 choose to live with a romantic partner, however, co-viewing becomes a priority – and the TV set again becomes their screen of choice. An even stronger preference emerges when kids enter the household.

So any way one looks at it, the TV screen continues to be a source of shared common experiences.

Whether it’s for family movie nights, favorite TV series, the latest reality shows or major live events that everyone will be talking about the next day, the TV set will remain king for its ability to bring people together.