Linear Broadcasting vs Streaming: the jury is still out

We have known for years that conventional television is losing its influence to the increasing power of streaming platforms such as Netflix, YouTube, Disney+ or Hulu. New generations consume audiovisual content with different patterns from those offered by traditional broadcast networks: they want to be able to enjoy their favorite programs or series at any time and without commercial breaks. That is why quarter after quarter, television share is shifting in favor of streaming and against traditional linear broadcasting and cable. Surprisingly, during last January, linear broadcast consumption increased by 9% compared to the previous month. What is behind this data?

But not only linear broadcast grew. In the US, the first week of January has set a new record in consumed television getting 197.6 billion viewing minutes. The previous record was Christmas week 2021 with 183 billion viewing minutes. Analyzing total data, monthly TV viewing had not been that high since May 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic with most of the world, including the US, in lockdown. This January 2022 overall increase in TV consumption resulted in a 9% increase in linear broadcast consumption. The two main reasons for this increase were: very compelling NFL playoffs that caught many viewers in front of the TV screen and the emission of new seasons of high viewer engagement drama series. It is important to note that these two categories account for more than half of the broadcast audience.

Photo by Christopher Alvarenga on Unsplash.

Live sporting events are one of the great attractions of broadcast. To gain insight into this data, the top 5 most-watched Fall Broadcast Shows of 2021 among 18-49-year-olds were sporting events. It is clear that sporting events are a great asset for traditional linear broadcast television. During this past January, a large portion of the NFL playoff games was played. This was one of the most contested editions in recent years, with most teams being possible division winners. That is why there was great engagement among fans from all over the country. This caused -in the category of sporting events- an increase of 18%, compared to the previous month. NFC and AFC championship games alone had a total of 80.6 billion viewing minutes. In 2021, the most popular streaming original was Netflix’s Lucifer and it “only” reached 80.3 billion throughout the entire year

The other major culprit of this increase was the premiere of many highly followed dramas. The return of series like Chicago P.D., Blue Bloods, The Rookie or This Is Us, among others, caused a 22% increase in audience compared to December 2021. For their part, sitcoms also experienced a 17% increase compared to the previous month, although their audience share is significantly lower. But it’s not all good news for conventional television. Clearly, today’s audience values series substantially more and that is why streaming platforms continue to grow and are already the second option only behind cable, understanding cable as a system in which television channels are transmitted to subscribers by cable.

We cannot forget that one of the sustaining contents of linear broadcast television has been news broadcasts. Historically, traditional television has provided audiences with live news, unlike streaming platforms that do not carry breaking news. News is helping sustain linear broadcast audiences. During the second week of March, ABC leads the two most important news shows of the day with an average of 3.46 million viewers for the morning news and 8.91 million for the evening news.Therefore, news still has the ability to attract viewers. Even if new generations use other sources to be informed about the latest news, like Twitter or Twitch, the economic capacity of big media is necessary to ensure that journalism can provide citizens with accurate and timely.

The general increase in consumption helped even more streaming platforms, that saw a 12% increase in viewed minutes, thus achieving the largest increase of any category. This provoked a 1.1% improvement in television share versus linear broadcasting and cable. During January, streaming averaged 180 billion viewing minutes per week, the highest average since Nielsen introduced streaming measurement. On the other hand, broadcast only increased by 0.3% and cable declined by 1.7%. Although conventional television is trying to defend it share, the premiere of new seasons of series such as Ozark, The Witcher, or Euphoria, and the constant increase in their catalogs continue to fuel the growth of the streaming platform’s share.

Photo by Jens Kreuter on Unsplash.

Conventional television has long had a big problem in attracting young audiences and at the same time has a big opponent, the streaming platforms, which are better at adapting their offer to fit today’s audience. Considering this change in trend and the fact that live sporting events and dramas are two of the most valuable categories, linear broadcasters should take good note and try to work in this line if they do not want to disappear from American homes. Now appears another big question mark. If public television makes a bet on entertainment, how will it affect the journalistic function of these media? Is it possible for broadcast to make quality journalism and entertainment, at the same time be economically sustainable?

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