A decade ago, maybe even five year ago, you may have had a hard time imagining the streaming TV ratings just reported for the month of July.
Nielsen, the company that measures broadcast and cable TV ratings also measures streaming TV ratings. It reported that streaming TV just recorded higher viewership than broadcast and cable in July.
That’s the first time that ever happened.
Yes, streaming TV recorded higher viewership than broadcast before. But July marked the first time it also beat cable viewership.
In the U.S., streaming captured 34.8% of viewership in July, while cable accounted for 34.4% and broadcast came in third at 21.6%, NPR reported.
The timing is important. Summer months mean breaks from the more traditional series broadcast TV viewers watch more faithfully during the rest of the year. While some summer series generate strong fan bases, the mostly reality-TV “hits” don’t do it for many of us. There’s also a lack of sporting events that helps broadcast and cable lose some of its numbers.
Add to those facts some significant streaming releases. Netflix just released a new season of Stranger Things and Hulu released its second season of Only Murders in the Building. Both dominated streaming TV ratings on their respective platforms.
Cord cutters present a challenge for broadcast television.
I grew up with cable television. We first welcomed a handful of new stations into our home in about 1979. Back then, in addition to the local stations we already had with (mostly) decent reception, we only gained a few new additions. There was TBS, which back then still went by its old call letters, WTCG-TV 17. We also gained a “superstation” in Washington, DC, WTTG-TV. My parents also subscribed to HBO, which gave us movies without commercial interruption. What a concept.
But over the years, as the number of channels increased, the prices increased at a rate that left too many feeling they weren’t getting their money’s worth.
Enter the cord cutters.
Unless they buy an antenna, which can be a tough sell in addition to streaming subscriptions that replace expensive cable, they don’t see broadcast. I subscribe to Paramount+, which gives me my local CBS station. For NBC shows, I can watch Peacock. I can watch some ABC shows on Hulu. But none of those would count for broadcast.
With more smart televisions coming in with built-in options for major streamers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, among others, there’s less of a need for consumers to buy streaming devices like Roku. But eliminating Roku from the mix is a problem for broadcast. Most television stations that have streaming apps rely on Roku or Amazon Fire to get their apps to their viewers.
Smart TVs don’t have app stores from which viewers can download those television station streaming apps.
Don’t mourn broadcast TV just yet.
I think we’ll see an increase for broadcast and cable as big sports and the traditional TV season return. But I also think we’ll continue to see streaming TV ratings slowly building toward yearlong dominance.
No, it’s not the end of broadcast TV — not yet, at least. But it’s a reminder that streaming television is not a fad and it’s not going anywhere. Streaming seems to be the option more viewers are flocking to. The trick will be for streaming services to be able to offer content viewers will be willing to pay for without getting so expensive that they start cutting those digital connections, too.
Broadcasters will have to work to get people to want their streaming apps. Eventually, broadcast television will move towards more exclusive streaming. But I think it will be a long time before there are no broadcast stations because not everyone has (or can afford) the technology to stream.
That day will come as more states try to bridge the digital divide and make high-speed internet available to more rural areas. But that’s still a long way off. Even when it’s available, until the government somehow manages to cover the cost of internet so consumers will never have to foot that bill — which will never happen — there will still be people who won’t be able to afford streaming.
Sooner or later — again, a long way down the road — people will have to decide whether they want streaming TV or none at all.