Streaming viewership passed cable for the first time ever in July

The news: Time spent watching streaming services surpassed both broadcast and cable for the first time ever in July, per Nielsen.

  • Streaming made up 34.8% of all viewing time, barely eking past cable at 34.4% and soaring well above broadcast at 21.6%.

By the numbers:

  • Viewers spent an average of 190.9 billion minutes streaming content per week, far above April 2020’s 169.9 billion, strong proof that streaming rode the pandemic to establish a grip on entertainment.
  • TV consumption was nearly identical to June and July of 2021, while streaming’s share increased 6.5% year over year.
  • Sports viewing dropped 41% year over year due to the dearth of sporting events compared with July 2021.

What this means: Streaming’s viewing time can mostly be attributed to the lack of sports broadcasting events, but this will be far from the last time streaming comes out on top.

  • July 2021 featured the NBA and NHL playoffs, as well as the Olympics. A return to major sports events like the FIFA World Cup, the tail end of the Major League Baseball (MLB) season, and the return of the NFL will give TV a boost—but even those staples are starting to transition to streaming.
  • For MLB and NFL viewers, the digital sports experience is fractured and messy. Rights for certain games are split among services like YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple TV+, and even more players are entering the field. But the NFL’s own dip into streaming and steady increase of digital sports viewership could lead to some cleaning up of the viewing experience.
  • Streaming services are now the homes of the most-watched and -discussed TV shows. Viewers spent 18 billion minutes watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix, per Nielsen, and shows like Apple TV’s “Severance” and HBO’s “The Rehearsal” have dominated awards and online discussion.

Looking forward: The growing streaming audience has streaming services and advertisers alike racing to seize the opportunity.

  • Netflix and Disney+ have been locked in a competition to see which will have the more successful ad-supported subscription tier, but while Disney may have beaten Netflix to the punch, Nielsen data shows that Netflix is still the leading streamer by far with 8% of streaming time compared with Disney’s 1.8%.
  • HBO Max is also trying to capture a larger share of streaming viewership. The streamer will merge with Discovery Plus in 2023 and renew its focus on unscripted, reality content that’s given Netflix and others a boost in viewing time.

The big takeaway: Streaming may have barely overtaken its legacy competitors last month, but it's still a landmark moment that’s sure to repeat itself in the future as more high-value content moves to digital platforms.

"Behind the Numbers" Podcast