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  • Writer's pictureDavid Hartery

Paid users up 11% as mobile video streaming installs surge

2020 was always going to be a big year for streaming, but no one expected how much the sector would develop in a relatively short space of time. In a much-changed world, all Warner Brothers’ tentpole movie releases in 2021 will simultaneously debut in cinemas and on HBO Max, NBCUniversal is paying a reported $1 billion for rights to WWE for their Peacock streaming platform and Disney+ hit 86.8m subscribers by the end of 2020. Revenue in the video streaming segment is also expected to grow to $30.4 billion by 2024, with mobile due to make up a huge chunk of that.

Before COVID-19 hit, mobile devices were considered a short attention span device for watching a quick video on your commute. But in 2020 and beyond — a world where for many the commute has vanished — mobile devices became the first port of call for content streaming for many users.

Adjust’s data, tracking the top video streaming apps using the Adjust platform in the U.S., shows how users seized the opportunity to get entertainment directly on their mobile devices — insights that will be key as the battle moves to retaining the huge surge of users from last year as the world slowly returns to normal in the coming months.

Huge demand for mobile streaming during 2020

The first striking thing about this chart is the huge surge in new users in March, when the first effects of the COVID-19 pandemic began to be felt in the United States. During this period, Adjust saw a 19.40% increase of average daily installs between January and March, with an increase of average daily installs of 8.52% between Q1 and Q2.

Over the summer months, we saw a relative lull — there was a 2.52% decrease in average daily installs between Q2 and Q3. But heading into Christmas 2020, Q4 saw a huge 14.17% increase on Q3’s average daily installs — the strongest quarter of the year for average daily installs in mobile video. This suggests that the strong growth we saw early in the year was not a one-off, but is part of a wider trend towards mobile video consumption.

Mobile users are highly active

In terms of sessions, how many times users opened a video streaming app in a given day, we saw an 8.45% increase in average daily sessions from January to March — again showing what a huge impact the initial COVID-19 period had on mobile adoption. This was followed by an increase in average daily sessions of 16.72% between Q1 and Q2.

Rather than a decline over the summer months, as we saw with installs, we instead saw a more modest but nonetheless impressive increase in average daily sessions between Q3 and Q2 of 7.05% — showing that acquired users are only becoming more active as the numbers of mobile streaming users grow. If the surge in sessions was solely attributed to the influx of new users, then sessions would track closely with the install trends. But since sessions have grown, even if installs didn’t, this means that users are using their mobile devices to stream video more often.

Between Q3 and Q4, average daily sessions grew by almost 10%, rounding out an impressive year for mobile app usage.

Not only are users more active in mobile apps than they were at the beginning of the year, but they’re also staying around for longer. Stickiness is a metric that measures the ratio of Daily Active Users to Monthly Active Users — basically, it measures how well apps are turning daily users into long term users.

The median stickiness for streaming apps increased by 8.3% between both Q1 and Q2, and a further 15.4% between Q2 and Q3 — more users are installing streaming apps on mobile and sticking around.

Mobile video streaming is becoming pay to play

Where these new users are coming from is also interesting. The ratio of users that apps paid to acquire, versus those that came from organic sources, surged between Q2 and Q3 — with the median growing 11%. This shift shows an increasing move towards paid campaigns as a source of user acquisition. This shift started around the time of the first COVID-19 lockdowns, suggesting that paid campaigns were successful in acquiring users when there was a big increase in demand for streaming apps at the start of the lockdown. As users turn to mobile for video streaming, they’re increasingly trying options that are advertised to them via performance marketing. This is an interesting development, as the video streaming industry is so brand-centric, dominated by massive players like Netflix, Amazon, Disney or Apple.


Paid campaigns are important for mobile streaming apps — more and more users are coming from paid sources, and mobile video is quickly becoming pay to play. With this in mind, attribution becomes essential for UA managers in video streaming, so they can correctly identify the channels that are working for them.

What is also important to consider going forward is cross-device OTT measurement. As the sector develops, it will be increasingly vital to measure the impact of Connected TV (CTV) advertising on the mobile device. For instance, imagine a user is watching CTV, she sees an ad for an app, and proceeds to install the app from her phone. Attributing this install correctly is important because it was the ad that prompted the install — and you want to ensure you recognize that channel’s importance when allocating funds for your next campaign.

Mobile users are an increasingly large audience for streaming and are increasingly active on their devices. As this continues to develop, ensuring you get users into your app, and getting the maximum value from those users, will mean using the whole mobile marketing toolbox.

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