Broadcast viewership surpassed cable for the first time in July

NEW YORK — This summer has been a breakthrough for streaming, as time viewers spent watching services like Netflix and Hulu surpassed broadcast and cable networks in July for the first month on record.

Viewers spent 35% of their time with streamers, 34% on cable networks and 22% watching broadcast television last month, the Nielsen company said Thursday. Video on demand or DVD playback accounted for much of the remaining time.

July is an unusual month — broadcast TV is essentially on vacation with little live sports or scripted programming and a prime-time slot packed with game shows — but it’s a clear indication of how quickly the business is changing.

“It was inevitable,” said David Bianculli, a professor of television studies at Rowan University and a critic of NPR’s “Fresh Air.” “I knew it had to happen, but I didn’t know it would happen as fast as it did.”

For more: What’s worth streaming in August, from Netflix to Disney+ to HBO Max

Streaming audience share in July was up 23% compared to July 2021, Nielsen said. The participation of open television was reduced by 10% and that of cable by 9%.

Streaming services learned from what cable did in its infancy, using broadcasting’s quiet summer months to present some of its best shows, said Brian Fuhrer, senior vice president of product strategy and thought leadership at Nielsen. New episodes of “Stranger Things” only on Netflix NFLX,
-3.25%
it accounted for 18 billion minutes of streaming, while “Virgin River” and “The Umbrella Academy” also did well.

Netflix is ​​still the top streamer, but it no longer dominates the field like it used to. In July, Disney’s DIS,
-2.34%
Hulu had strong numbers for “Only Murders in the Building” and “The Bear,” while Amazon’s AMZN,
-2.63%
Prime Video was a hit with “The Terminal List” and “The Boys.”

With pandemic-related breaks in filming schedules now largely over, streamers have a backlog of new material, Fuhrer said.

Many viewers became familiar with streaming and added it to their media diets during the pandemic, he said. They haven’t looked back. Every week in July had more total streaming minutes than any other week Nielsen has counted, with the exception of the week between Christmas and New Years last year.

The return of soccer games and a new season of new scripted shows this fall should give streaming networks a boost, Fuhrer said.

However, it’s hard to see them going back to a level of dominance that comes close to anything in the past. For one thing, the media companies that own streaming networks also have sister streaming services: Paramount Global’s PARA,
-0.98%
CBS and Paramount+, and Comcast’s CMCSA,
-0.67%
NBC and Peacock, for example, and they generally see streaming as the future, he said.

“Networks have collectively decided not only that streaming is the future, but that they can’t wait to get there as quickly as possible,” Bianculli said. “They’re not doing anything to slow down the upload.”

Fuhrer said it will be interesting this fall when large soccer audiences return to television to see if those networks will spend a lot of time promoting their own shows.

“This month and the next two or three months may be the most crucial in the history of television in terms of all the media companies and their strategies,” he said.

Some business experts believe streaming services are in a pre-shake period, with several trying to establish themselves before the industry realizes there are only a limited number of outlets consumers are willing to go for. to turn off. The result can be a period of consolidation.

“It’s a great time to be a viewer,” Bianculli said, “and I can’t imagine there’s a better time to pursue television creatively.”

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