Streaming now exceeds broadcast TV viewing, study shows

The percentage streaming represents of all TV viewing has nearly doubled in two years.

Netflix and YouTube are the most popular streaming services with streaming now exceeding broadcast TV viewing but lagging far behind cable TV, according to a new Nielsen monthly measuring report called The Gauge.

About 26% of TV viewing at home is streaming, just ahead of broadcast TV (25%) but behind cable TV (39%). The remainder is DVD or on-demand.

Netflix and YouTube are at 6% each, followed by Hulu (3%), Amazon Prime (2%) and Disney+ (1%). Rival services such as BET+, Peacock, Tubi, Crackle, HBO Max, Apple TV+, Shudder and Paramount+ are part of the other 8%.

But streaming is gaining quickly. In 2019, streaming represented just 14% of viewing. So as a percentage, it has nearly doubled its share in just two years. NIelsen told The New York Times the percentage could rise to 33% by the end of the year.

Streaming was virtually nonexistent ten years ago, but has transformed how people are consuming television today.

This Nielsen study is holistic. It doesn’t release info on any individual program on a streaming service.

And it is hardly complete and may be underreporting streaming viewing. Why? Nielsen’s newly named Gauge uses TV viewing in 14,000 homes catching internet traffic that passes through a router but does not count phone, tablet, desktop or laptop viewing.

It also uses different, less accurate audio recognition technology to provide a top 10 of most popular streaming original TV series, acquired TV series and movies across multiple platforms using millions of minutes watched.

The most recent top 10 covering May 17 to May 23 featured “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu on top of the originals list, Netflix’s “Army of the Dead” as most popular film and Netflix’s “NCIS” repeats for shows picked up from other networks. Netflix had 8 of the 10 shows on the original list and all 10 on the acquired list but just half of films, with Disney covering four of the top 10.

In the olden days, say, a decade ago, when broadcast and even cable TV dominated, tracking viewership and popularity wasn’t that difficult.

Nielsen, which tracks TV viewing for advertisers, provided reasonable measures for broadcast and cable. While overnight ratings were losing steam thanks to DVR usage, at least Nielsen provided numbers including DVRs for up to a week after the fact. We as TV reporters at least had a sense what was doing well and what wasn’t.

But the advent of streaming services and on-demand viewing has muddied the waters. Netflix will occasionally release cherry-picked numbers that are not remotely apples to apples to what Nielsen measures. Netflix also doesn’t offer data on its borderline or failing shows so it’s often a mystery whether a series will get picked up or not.

And it’s not just Netflix. Other services rarely provide anything close to data on individual shows and how many have viewed them. They don’t need to. Most don’t rely on advertising.

Netflix provides a daily top 10 list but even those only provide a rough gauge since they are ranked without actual viewership statistics. Otherwise, it sometimes mentions how many households watched a particular program the first week or 30 days after it debuted but it counts “viewing” as anyone who sampled just two minutes of a series or movie.

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