It finally happened, at least according to a new metric Nielsen began using two years ago: linear TV now accounts for less than 50 percent of all TV usage. This probably isn’t a surprise unless you're reading this on the couch while watching the NBC Nightly News. Between YouTube, TikTok, and streaming channels, people have a lot of ways to occupy their video-viewing time.
Approximately two years ago, Nielsen started using a new metric for measuring how people spend their TV-watching time. It built in buckets for broadcast TV, cable TV, streaming, and a catchall called “Other” that accounted for people using gaming consoles and media players. The latest report shows broadcast and cable TV each dropping about one percent from June 2023 to July 2023. Streaming and the “Other” category each gained that one percent in the same time period.
But if you compare things to a year ago, the decline is much more pronounced. The analytics firm showed that cable usage had dropped by 12.5 percent since this time last year, accounting for less than a third of viewers’ time, while broadcast TV slid to just one-fifth of total watch time in American homes.
At the same time, Nielsen says streaming had a record-breaking month led by YouTube and Netflix, which together accounted for almost as much viewer time spent as broadcast alone. Nielsen’s “Other” category has been up consistently for the last three months, although it was actually down a percentage point from the same time last year.
This trend is supported by the latest numbers from Leichtman Research, which dropped a report estimating cable providers lost an estimated 1.73 million subscribers in the second quarter of 2023. “We think the metrics for linear TV are all bad,” Macquarie media analyst Tim Nolle noted in an August 14 investor report The Hollywood Reporter acquired.
And they are! Some execs like Netflix’s Reed Hastings have even been loudly and proudly banging a drum heralding the death of linear TV for years now. Just last year, he even declared 2032 as the year linear TV would officially die. Meanwhile, Bob Iger over at Disney just recently announced his desire to find minority stakeholders for ESPN and said its linear cable channels “may not be core to Disney,” citing declining cable subscription numbers.
There’s still a chance for traditional TV. Free ad-supported TV services like Tubi and The Roku Channel are increasing in popularity, and if you talk to anyone in the broadcast TV business, they’ll tell you ATSC 3.0 could save TV too. But traditional TV isn’t just competing with Disney Plus and Max; it's competing with YouTube and TikTok, and other video providers that can rely on creators to churn out content faster and more cheaply than NBC or CBS. So Nielsen’s news of declining viewership isn’t a surprise as much as it was always a somewhat depressing inevitability.