The number of ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) viewers in the US will rise by 17.6% year over year to nearly 128 million in 2021, according to our latest eMarketer forecast from Insider Intelligence.

Although that growth rate is high, it is a sharp deceleration compared with previous years, down from 30.3% in 2020 and 38.6% in 2019. At the time, many streaming video apps were entering the market, and AVOD services were able to cut through consumers’ subscription fatigue by offering a cheaper—if not completely free—alternative. This year will be the first time that AVOD viewers make up more than 50% of all digital video viewers in the US.

We define AVOD viewers as individuals of any age who, at least once per month, watch videos on an ad-supported platform that primarily offers professionally produced content, via app or website. Examples of these platforms include Hulu, Peacock, Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, and Tubi but exclude services reliant on user-generated content, such as Twitch, YouTube, and social media platforms.

“People had more time to try free ad-supported services last year due to COVID-19 restrictions, but with life returning to normal, people won’t be able to watch as much video content as before,” said Nazmul Islam, eMarketer forecasting analyst at Insider Intelligence. “Another problem is that these services don’t have as much original content as their subscription OTT counterparts. As free AVOD platforms continue to be profitable, however, we can expect to see their parent companies add more content to them in the form of original shows, news, or sports.”

By the end of this year, free streaming platforms are expected to have 89.2 million monthly viewers in the US. - Insider Intelligence
By the end of this year, free streaming platforms are expected to have 89.2 million monthly viewers in the US. Insider Intelligence

AVOD viewership is anticipated to grow for the next few years, driven by newer platforms including Paramount+ and Peacock, as well as by free services such as Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, and Tubi. Free premium video streaming platforms started out small, capturing only a total of 30.6 million monthly viewers in 2018, before expanding their audience by almost 89% in 2019. By the end of this year, these free platforms are expected to have 89.2 million monthly viewers in the US.