Nielsen Spots a Milestone in How We Watch TV

For the first time ever, Americans used streaming platforms more than cable
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 19, 2022 10:21 AM CDT
Nielsen Spots a Milestone in How We Watch TV
   (Getty/Milan Markovich)

(Newser) – The numbers had been heading in this direction for a while, but July nevertheless represents a milestone in the way Americans watch TV. Nielsen reports that streaming—from the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and others—trumped cable for the first time ever in a given month.

  • The numbers: Streaming captured 34.8% of viewership in July, just ahead of cable's 34.4% and more comfortably ahead of traditional broadcast TV at 21.6%. As NPR notes, streaming has previously beaten broadcast TV in a given month, but never broadcast and cable.
  • Big factors: One show played a key role in this—Stranger Things. The popular Netflix series' most recent season ate up 18 billion viewing minutes of Americans' time. Another 11 billion combined minutes went to watching Virgin River and The Umbrella Factory, which helps explain why Netflix led the way among streaming platforms with an 8% share of overall TV viewing, per Nielsen.
  • Also-rans: YouTube (including YouTube TV) had a 7.3% share, followed by Hulu (3.6%), Amazon Prime Video (3%), Disney Plus (1.8%), and HBO Max (1%), per the Hollywood Reporter. Of note for Hulu, the second season of Only Murders in the Building and The Bear combined for 3 billion minutes of viewing time, notes Variety.

  • Other factors: While overall streaming ticked up 3.2% from June thanks in part to the new offerings mentioned above, cable viewership fell 2% for the month. The biggest decline for cable was in sports viewership, with summer being a typically slow time for the category. It's possible cable will retake the lead in the fall, though the overall trend of streaming's dominance seems clear. For one thing, the Nielsen numbers account only for physical TVs and don't factor in mobile or desktop viewing, which almost certainly would further boost the streaming numbers, per Ars Technica.
  • Big picture: Consider, too, that the numbers are even more striking if you look back over a year. Streaming is up 23% compared to July 2021, while cable is down 9% and broadcast 10%. “It was inevitable,” David Bianculli of NPR, a professor of TV studies at Rowan University, tells the AP. “I knew it had to happen, but I didn't know it would happen as quickly as it did.”
  • Another shift: The milestone, even while expected, "is an inflection point for the typical American TV viewer as well as the industry," writes Jordan Valinsky at CNN. Streaming is both the "present and future of Hollywood," though he notes that the platforms themselves face friction. The overall subscriber base is reaching a plateau and the days of platforms luring new people with cheap rates is coming to an end. "The streaming wars are over because subscriber growth has come to a halt," media analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson tells CNN. "You're fighting a war in a land that has no more resources in it."
(Read more television stories.)

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