RESULTS ARE IN: College Student Entertainment Habits

By BNC Marketing

How, When, and What They’re Watching (and Listening to) on Cable and Streaming Services

Wondering about college students’ entertainment habits and preferences? Barnes & Noble College recently asked undergrad college students from across the nation how they consume entertainment – and what they said was eye-opening.

For marketers of entertainment content and delivery services, the relevance of this information is clear. But for those who market other products and services, these insights may also have a powerful impact. Understanding how today’s Gen Z students consume entertainment is essential to fully understanding this target audience, aligning with their interests, and effectively reaching them during their leisure time.

Contrary to popular belief, college students continue to use traditional cable services – for now.

  • 66% of respondents use a traditional cable service, yet 62% of them do NOT pay for the service themselves (rather parents, friends, roommates, or landlords pay the subscription fee).
  • Among those connected by the cable cord, 71% use bundled services, with nearly all bundles including internet and 47% including landline phone service.
  • Nearly half (49%) of them are considering cutting the cable cord in the future.
  • The majority (63%) of students watch cable 10 hours or less per week and 23% do not watch cable TV at all.
  • Top channels watched include the big 4 networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox), plus HGTV, Food Network, ESPN and HBO.
  • Keep in mind that our survey population included a high concentration (65%) of students planning to live off campus next year

As entertainment networks have enhanced their subscription offerings and college students are on-the-go with diverse schedules, this audience has been drawn to subscription services.

  • More than 90% use a movie-streaming service, with Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu being top picks.
  • Services tied to cable networks are also popular, with 21% using HBO Now and 8% using DirectTV subscriptions. Showtime Anytime, Spectrum TV Stream, Starz Play, and Cinemax Go are also on their preferred list.

It’s no surprise that cable and streaming viewing habits differ considerably.

  • Students spend more time viewing streaming content than they do traditional cable programming. 87% of students spend up to 20 hours each week viewing streaming content while 72% spend up to 20 hours watching traditional cable programming.
  • Device used is also flipped. For cable viewers 84% watch programs on TV and 48% use their tablets/laptops. For streaming programs, the computer is the device of choice among 77% and TV for 56%.

Music streaming continues to be popular, and if it’s free, all the better.

  • 93% use a music streaming service, with Spotify taking the lead at 66% and Pandora (51%), YouTube Music (41%), Amazon Music (25%), and Apple Music (23%) following in popularity.
  • Users rely mostly on free versions of Pandora and YouTube Music and have a higher tendency to pay for Amazon Music and Apple Music. Spotify users are split.

Looking for more college student insights on entertainment or any number of other topics? Our 15K Student Community Panel can provide deep insights to inform your brand marketing programs.

For more actionable Gen Z insights, check out our latest study, “Conversations with Gen Z”.

Conversations with Gen Z


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