This summer has been a success for streaming, with viewers spending the first month of July watching services like Netflix and Hulu and outpacing cable television networks. Viewers spent 35 percent of their time with streamers, 34 percent on cable networks and 22 percent watching broadcast television, Nielsen Co. said Thursday. Video on demand or DVD playback is more than ever. July is an unusual month — broadcast TV is essentially stuck on vacation with little live sports or scripted programming and prime-time schedule game shows — but it’s a clear indication of how fast the business is changing.
“It was inevitable,” said David Bianculli, a professor of television studies at Rowan University and critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air.” “I knew it had to happen, but I didn’t know it would happen as soon as it did.”
Streaming audience share was up 23 percent in July compared to July 2021, Nielsen said. Broadcast television’s share fell by 10 percent and cable’s share by 9 percent.
Broadcast services learn from what cable did in its infancy, using broadcast’s quiet summer months to bring out some of its best programming, said Brian Fuhrer, Nielsen’s senior vice president for product strategy and thought leadership. New episodes of Stranger Things alone streamed 18 billion minutes on Netflix, while Virgin River and The Umbrella Academy also did well.
Netflix is still the top streamer, but it no longer dominates the field as it once did. In July, Hulu had strong numbers for Only Murders in the Building and The Bear, while Amazon Prime had hits with The Terminal List and The Boys.
With pandemic-related pauses in shooting schedules now largely over, streamers have a backlog of new content, Fuhrer said.
Many viewers became familiar with streaming and added it to their media diet during the pandemic, he said. They never looked back. With the exception of Christmas and New Year’s week last year, total minutes streamed more each week in July than any other week Nielsen has measured so far.
The return of football games and a new season of new scripted shows this fall should give the broadcast network a boost, Fuhrer said.
Yet it’s hard to see them pushing back to levels of dominance that come close to anything in the past. For one thing, media companies that own broadcast networks also have sister streaming services — for example, CBS and Paramount+, NBC and Peacock — and generally see streaming as the future, he said.
“The networks have collectively decided that streaming is the future, but they can’t wait to get there as soon as possible,” Bianculli said. “They don’t do anything to lower the charges.”
Fuhrer said it will be interesting to see if the networks spend a lot of time promoting their own shows when football’s big audience returns to broadcast TV.
“This month and the next two to three months could be the most decisive 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-shakeout period, with many trying to establish themselves before the industry realizes there are multiple outlets for which consumers are willing to pay. The result may be an integration period.
“It’s a great time to be a TV viewer,” Bianculli said, “and I can’t imagine a better time to be in television creatively.”