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New Nielsen Video Report Shows Streaming Accounts for More Viewing than Broadcast TV

The surging popularity of streaming services has been steadily eroding broadcast and cable TV’s market share for years, but a report by Nielsen shows we have entered a new phase in the streaming vs. broadcast wars. Audience share for streaming services has eclipsed broadcast TV for the first time.

Nielsen’s first comprehensive overview of the video landscape, called The Gauge, was made possible by the data and market measuring firm expanding its Streaming Meter from just 800 households to 14,000. It also launched its Streaming Video Ratings service last year, allowing for a larger and more accurate sample size of household video streaming habits.

Data measured in May 2021 found that streaming video, including both AVOD and SVOD, represented 26% of all viewing, just edging out broadcast TV’s 25% audience share. Although most streaming video consumption occurs on TV screens, mobile devices also make up a sizable portion. However, for now at least, Nielsen’s numbers don’t factor in mobile streaming, and Forbes notes audience share would likely skew even more away from broadcast or pay TV were those figures included.

Nielsen’s shows cable television remained in the top spot with a 39% share of viewing. But cable isn’t immune to declines. Last year, when much of the country was under lockdown at home and glued to their screens, pay TV shed millions of subscribers. Protocol reports the five largest pay TV providers lost a combined 5.5 million subscribers last year, and Variety called the rapid exodus by paying TV customers in 2020 “the worst year ever” for cable subscription numbers. 

According to MoffettNathanson, traditional pay TV numbers have steadily declined since 2009, when the percentage of U.S. households paying for cable reached its peak, at 89% penetration. In 2020, that figure had dropped to just 61% of households. Broadcast TV has seen similar declines in recent years, even across the major networks. According to MoffettNathanson, since 2016 the reach for the four major networks has dropped significantly, including FOX (-22.5%), NBC (-21.3%), CBS (-21.1%), and ABC (-21.8%).

Nielsen’s The Gauge reports the streaming services claiming the largest market share of viewers were the more mature players like Netflix (6%) and YouTube (6%), with Hulu rounding out the top three at 3%. Amazon Prime Video represented 2%, and relative newcomer Disney+ captured 1% of audience share. Smaller streaming services combined accounted for the remaining 8%.

With Nielsen now able to accurately track and monitor streaming video consumption, we’ll get a much clearer picture of the continued rise of subscription streaming services as more cable and broadcast TV customers cut the cord.


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