Proof: Streaming channels boom during pandemic

How much toxic tobacco should our kids stream in a national health crisis?

In the first month of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, in March 2020, the US audience for streaming (VOD) channels grew by 50-60%, according to Nielsen tracking. Year-over-year, the streaming audience has doubled.

In March, kids led the list. Children and teen viewers grew by nearly two-thirds. Younger and older adult viewers were up by half, Nielsen said.

Why is a streaming explosion relevant to public health? Because it potentially exposes more kids to more on-screen smoking. The CDC projects that smoking on screen will recruit more than six million new young US smokers in this generation, killing two million of them. The harm is dose-related, meaning the more smoking kids see on screen, the more likely they are to smoke.

  • Smokefree Movies reported on April 15, 2020, that popular streaming channels fail to give viewers any advance warning of tobacco content. The report also showed that parental controls on most of these channels are unworkable.
  • The report demonstrated that half of Netflix's original TV series contain smoking, including 55 percent of its shows rated TV-14 and 72 percent of its TV-MA shows. This finding reinforces research by Truth Initiative, which has watched smoking increase in streaming series most popular with young people.
  • The Smokefree Movies report calculated that movies are being watched fourteen times more often on digital devices than in theaters — even before the pandemic. Half of movies released in the US in the past five years feature smoking.

In the past year, shareholders, US Senators and dozens of state Attorneys General have pushed Big Media to come clean on tobacco. Instead, their streaming channels are betraying the public trust during a national health crisis. It's time for everybody who cares about kids to speak out.

Two things you can do right now — easy and free

      • Sign the change.org R-rating petition

      • Get our free "What is Hollywood Hiding?" action guide

Want to add some heat to a social media post or media pitch? Nielsen reports that streaming growth varied by city— from 18 percent in Jacksonville to 95 percent in Portland — so check out that local detail! San Francisco, up 68 percent...