Understanding motivations to subscribe to online streaming services like Netflix, AmazonPrime, HBO, Disney+ or Hulu

This is an excerpt from one of my latest contributions (that is forthcoming).

This contribution explored the individuals’ motivations to use streaming technologies to watch live broadcast programs and/or recorded content. It differentiated itself from other research, as it integrated valid measures that were drawn from the technology acceptance model (TAM )(Nagy, 2018; Munoz-Leiva et al., 2017; Niehaves and Plattfaut, 2014; Cha, 2013; Davis, 1989) and from the Uses and Gratifications Theory (UGT) (Steiner and Xu, 2018; Riddle et al., 2018; Joo and Sang, 2013; Bondad-Brown et al., 2012; Katz et al., 1973).

The critical review of the relevant literature reported that both theories were widely used (and cited) in academia to investigate the individuals’ behavioral intentions to adopt new technologies, in different contexts (Manis and Choi, 2019, Liu et al., 2010, Benbasat and Barki, 2007). In essence, TAM suggests that the individuals’ perceptions about the ease of use and the usefulness of certain technologies would predict their intentions to use themagain in the future (Sch,  et al., 2019; Munoz-Leiva et al., 2017; Rauniar et al., 2014; Wallace and Sheetz, 2014; Davis et al., 1989; Davis, 1989). Moreover, UGT assumes that individuals seek to gratify their intrinsic and extrinsic needs through habitual consumptions of media technologies (Kaur et al., 2020; Perks and Turner, 2019; Ray et al., 2019; Li et al., 2017; Joo and Sang, 2013; Bartsch, 2012; Chen, 2011; Smock et al., 2011; Stafford et al., 2004; Katz et al., 1973). Figure 1 (from the Analysis section) sheds light on the explanatory power of this research model. It illustrates the total effects, outer loadings and the coefficient of determination (R squared) values of the constructs. The students’ indicated that they were committed to continue using the online streaming technologies (R2=0.517) as they perceived its usefulness (R2=0.179).

Figure 1. A graphical illustration of the results

The findings from this research indicated that the research participants perceived the ease of use as well as the usefulness of the streaming technologies. The results confirmed that they found it easy and straightforward to use their smart TVs, smart phones or tablets to access online streaming services. The respondents believed that the streaming technologies allowed them to view TV programs and/or recorded videos in a faster way than traditional TV subscriber services or satellite TV. They perceived the usefulness of online TV and/or video streaming services, as they enhanced their experience of watching informative and/or entertainment programs, particularly when they used their mobile devices (Nikou and Economides, 2017; Balakrishnan and Raj, 2012; Lee et al., 2020). Hence, the research participants were committed to continue using their smart devices to access their favorite online programs through streaming technologies. The regression analysis revealed that there were highly significant correlations between TAM’s core constructs including the perceived ease of use and the perceived usefulness of online streaming services. Both of these constructs were also significant antecedents of the individuals’ intentions to continue using the mentioned technologies. 

The individuals’ ritualized motivations to use the streaming technologies was found to have a very significant effect on their intention to use them. The respondents were using online streaming technologies on a habitual basis, to break the routine. These findings are consistent with the relevant literature concerning UGT, where the researchers concluded that, many often, individuals consider the media technologies as a form of entertainment (Dhir et al., 2017b, 2017c; Li, 2017; Bartsch, 2012; Smock et al., 2011) as individuals . In this case, the research participants sought emotional gratifications from the streaming technologies. Probably, they allowed them to relax in their free time. Other theoretical underpinnings reported that individuals use certain technologies to distract themselves into a better mood (Lonsdale and North; 2011; Park et al., 2009; Knobloch, 2003; Zillmann, 2000). Most of the respondents indicated that they were using these technologies to satisfy their needs for information and entertainment. These findings are consistent with previous studies (Lee et al., 2010; Quan-Haase and Young, 2010; Bumgarner, 2007).

The survey respondents revealed that they used online streaming technologies for instrumental purposes to watch informative programs, including news and talk shows as well as entertainment programs, including movies and series through online streaming services. Other researchers also reported that there were many instances where individuals benefited of their smart phones and tablets’ instrumentality and mobility, as they enabled them to access online content, including recorded videos, live streams and/or intermittent marketing content, when they were out and about.

The participants indicated their agreement with the survey item about the advertising options of online streaming services. This research suggests that they were aware that subscribed users of online streaming technologies can limit or block intrusive and/or repetitive advertisements they receive whilst using online streaming technologies (Belanche et al., 2019). Previous studies also reported that online users were increasingly applying ad blockers (Redondo and Aznar, 2018; Lim et al., 2015). The practitioners who are using digital marketing platforms, including online streaming websites to promote their products and/or services, ought to refine the quality and content of their customer centric marketing. Their underlying objective is to engage their audiences with relevant, helpful information that complements, rather than detracts from their overall online experience.

Practical implications

This research postulates that the respondents are consuming free-tier and/or paid streaming services through different digital media including mobile devices like smart phones and tablets. It confirmed that online streaming technologies can improve the consumers’ experiences of watching live broadcasts and/or recorded programs. The research participants perceived their ease of use and their usefulness as they can be accessed in any place, at any time, through decent Wi-Fi and/or network connections. The findings are consistent with the U&G theory as the participants indicated that the media technologies were entertaining. Hence, they were committed to continue using them. They indicated that they would continue using them in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, this study revealed that the respondents’ instrumental motivations to use online streaming services did not predict their intentions to use them (even though these technologies allowed their subscribers to limit or block online advertisements).

Most probably, the respondents were accessing on-demand streaming services in the comfort of their home, rather than from mobile technologies, when they were out and about. The reason for this behavior could be that they prefer watching online programs through big screens as opposed to watching them through their mobile devices’ smaller screens.  The latest TVs may offer quality, high resolution images and better sound than smart phones and tablets. Thus, smart TVs (that are using Apple and/or Android systems, among others) may be considered more appropriate to watch recorded movies and/or TV series. It is very likely that the participants would also perceive the ease of use and the usefulness of these technologies for other purposes, including digital gaming, video conferencing, et cetera.

Recently, the unprecedented outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its preventative social distancing measures has led to a considerable increase in the use of digital media (Camilleri, 2020). There was also a surge in the subscriptions to paid streaming services (Marketwatch, 2020). As a result, more digital advertisements (ads) were featured in online streaming services. They are usually presented to free tier consumers as skippable or non-skippable streaming or static ads that appear before, during or after they access online broadcasts and/or recorded programs. Alternatively, online users may decide to subscribe to the streaming services, if they want to block the marketing messages they receive (Tefertiller, 2020; Kim, Nam and Ryu, 2017). This way, they could have more control over their online experience.

There are several media companies in the market, that are offering competitive streaming packages. Very often, they are producing new programs, including movies, series, et cetera. Consumers may be intrigued to upgrade their services to benefit of secure, reliable, low latency streaming infrastructures, and to gain access to more exclusive content in an ad-free, interactive environment. They may also appreciate if the service providers would increase their engagement with them by using customer-centric recommender systems. Consumers may be informed about their favorite programs through regular notifications to their mobile apps (if they subscribe to them). These alerts ought to be related to their personal preferences. As a result, the consumers would continue entertaining themselves with online streaming technologies as they perceive their instrumentality, ease of use and the usefulness of their services.

Suggested Citation: Camilleri, M.A. & Falzon, L. (2020). Understanding motivations to use online streaming services: Integrating the technology acceptance model (TAM) and the uses and gratifications theory (UGT), Spanish Journal of Marketing – ESIC., DOI: 10.1108/SJME-04-2020-0074

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