By now, “Shark Week” is pretty much part of the American vernacular. 

The Discovery Channel, which still runs Shark Week every summer, has been around since the 1980s and has become a staple in cable TV subscriptions. Famous for running educational and reality shows, like Planet Earth and Mythbusters, the Discovery company owns some big names in television, including HGTV and Food Network.

Chances are, if you’re a Millennial, you grew up with the Discovery Channel. The question is, to what extent are streaming services such as Netflix disrupting Discovery’s viewership and TV consumption in general? And once the channel launches its own streaming platform, as anticipated in 2020, who is interested in subscribing?

A CivicScience survey of more than 5,000 U.S. respondents (age 13+) reveals that the Discovery Channel still resonates with a lot of Americans. A total of 50% say they watch the channel either very often or somewhat often.

But when it comes to Millennials and Gen Z, it turns out that they are the least likely to tune into Discovery. Only 43% of 18- to 34-year-olds watch it often, compared to 53% of older adults. 

The channel is the most popular among adults 35 and older and adolescents under 18.

Does Discovery’s content just appeal less to young adults these days? Or, have streaming services edged out live TV for this group?

Live TV vs. Streaming TV

When comparing those who watch the Discovery Channel and those who do not with primary way of watching TV, a trend emerges that makes sense given the age chart shown above.

Those who watch the Discovery channel are more likely to watch live TV more often than not than those who do not tune in to Discovery.

Taking a broader look, live TV is the least popular for the younger age group. Only 17% of 18- to 34-year-olds say they mostly watch live TV, while 40% say they mostly watch DVR or streaming TV. That stands in stark contrast to adults 35 and over:

Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime TV are also the most popular among this age group. Nearly 70% have Netflix subscriptions.

Even so, the Discovery Channel and Netflix still share viewers. Nearly 40% of frequent Discovery watchers also watch Netflix daily or weekly. It’s true that daily Netflix viewership is much more prevalent among those who don’t have access to the Discovery Channel, but we still see a diverse mix of TV-watching habits among Discovery’s large viewer base.

The Future Looks Good For Discovery’s Own Streaming Service

This all looks good for Discovery. When it comes to their upcoming streaming partnership with the BBC, broad interest is there: more than one-third of the U.S. population (13+) interested in the service.

Among the Discovery channel viewers and its non-viewers, the good news for the new Discovery / BBC streaming service is that interest is just as strong between Discovery viewers (those who watch it regularly or somewhat regularly) and Discovery non-viewers (those who rarely watch it or don’t have access to it at this time).

The other set of good news: Young adults, those who tune in to the Discovery Channel on TV the least, are most interested in the new streaming service.

Who are the Discovery Channel Viewers and What Else Can We Learn From Them?

The survey shows that the channel’s programming appeals to a diverse audience. 

The blend of reality and educational programming appeals to teens and older adults alike. The high rate of teen viewership is likely driven in part by having access to their parents’ TV subscriptions, as opposed to young adults.

The survey found that Discovery Channel viewers are more likely to be male, to be parents, to be bigger reality television fans, and to watch more documentaries, as well as travel/ home/cooking shows —  all par for the course.

However, when it comes to looking at ‘tribal’ media consumption behavior, the survey shows that people who say they watch the Discovery Channel very often are also much more likely to watch Fox News for national news. Fox News still beats out CNN, MSNBC and other networks among the majority of survey respondents.

However, half of those who don’t have access to the Discovery Channel don’t watch TV news at all. Not surprisingly, it’s 18- to 34-year-olds who are the most unlikely to watch national TV news, representing nearly 40% of this age group.

While the Discovery Channel still seems to be going strong among older (and teen) populations, the lower Gen Z adult and Millennial viewership represents the growing transition away from traditional TV subscription through service providers. That’s not only true for the channel, but also for established TV news networks. The study shows that Discovery’s new streaming service may help sway young adults to tune into the channel and its series by streaming.