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New and noteworthy media trends for Canada in 2021

For the second year in a row, the pandemic was a major influence on media consumption and device ownership. Of course, many internet users had already experienced the types of restrictions imposed during the first phase of the health crisis in 2020, so we might have expected little change in their media behavior in 2021. That was true in some cases—but in others, a second year of the pandemic seems to have prompted significant shifts. Here's a dive into media and device use trends in Canada in 2021.

Ownership of PCs and tablets declined, as smartphone penetration rose. Time spent with all devices climbed, though.

  • Between H1 2020 and H1 2021, smartphone penetration in Canada rose minimally, from 92.5% to 93.6% of internet users ages 16 to 64, GWI reported. Ownership remained highest among respondents ages 16 to 44 and those living in more affluent households.
  • For the first time, the share of 55- to 64-year-olds who owned a smartphone overtook the share owning a desktop or laptop, at 87.4% and 84.8%, respectively. In fact, overall PC ownership slipped below 80% in H1 2021. Tablet ownership also declined to 53.5%, though more than 60% of respondents ages 45 to 64 and those in affluent homes owned a tablet.
  • The average time spent daily with tablets and PCs rose 11 minutes year over year (YoY), to pass the 4-hour mark. Time spent daily with mobile devices was also up, to 2 hours and 48 minutes (2:48).

Large-screen devices still accounted for more time, though – a pattern common in many advanced economies, including the UK, the US and most of Western Europe. The average time spent daily with tablets and PCs rose 11 minutes year over year, to pass the 4-hour mark. Time spent daily with mobile devices was also up, to 2 hours, 48 minutes.

One of the biggest changes we saw: The reach of video—including subscription services—has finally surpassed that of broadcast TV.

Smart TV ownership also rose by several percentage points between H1 2020 and H1 2021, to 49.0%. That share was well above 50% in several demographics, including internet users ages 35 to 64, those in medium- and higher-income households, and those living in suburban areas.

Nearly 90% of internet users in Canada had streamed some type of video-on-demand (VOD) in the month prior to polling in H1 2021. In the youngest cohort, ages 16 to 24, that share was 98.6%.

Between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021, usage of subscription VOD (SVOD) services like Netflix and Disney+ rose from 76.2% to 81.1%. SVOD viewing no longer correlated precisely with age; penetration in the youngest cohort (89.8%) remained greater than among internet users ages 55 to 64 (64.5%), but that gap had closed significantly. Moreover, engagement was now highest in the 25-to-34 age bracket, at 92.5%.