I saw recent headlines that claim that the time people watch streaming content is now greater than all of the time spent watching content from cable companies. A deeper look at the underlying statistics shows that this isn’t entirely true, but it makes for a great headline. But it’s still news that the percentage of viewing done through streaming continues to grow while the number of traditional cable customers continues to plunge.
Let’s start with the July 2022 numbers. These statistics come from Nielsen, which has been tracking viewership of content for decades and publishes monthly reports on the video industry. The best-known statistics coming from Nielsen are the ranking and popularity of various TV shows. Nielsen says that July streaming was up significantly, partially due to a surge in the viewing of the newly released Stranger Things 4.
|July 2021||July 2022|
The statistics show that the total time spent watching content through streaming was greater than the time spent watching all content through traditional cable TV connections. The reason that this isn’t completely accurate is that the “Other” category includes some viewing that also comes from cable companies such as streaming through cable settop boxes.
Nielsen counts streaming through a cable settop box as other because the company has no visibility into the identity of such content. An example would be somebody reaching a streaming service like Netflix through the Comcast settop box. Such content is hard to classify because it all comes from a traditional cable company, but much of it is also streaming.
But the nuances of the numbers aren’t what matters as much as the trend. It’s clear over time that the percentage of time watching streaming content is growing while the use of traditional cable TV viewing is waning.
One explanation for this is the decreasing number of traditional cable customers. According to Leichtman Research Group, the number of cable customers of the largest cable companies dropped from 70.7 million in June 2021 to 65.0 million in June 2022. That’s an 8% drop in total cable customers, which aligns well with a drop in the share of cable viewing in the Nielsen numbers above that show a 9% drop in cable viewing.
All of this means there is still a lot of video content that will eventually be migrating to the Internet. Traditional cable still carried 37.7% of all viewing in July. Another 23.8% of viewing was through broadcast (rabbit ears). Those still represent over 60% of all video views.
The Nielsen numbers and trends suggest that broadband networks will continue to see increased demand from video that will continue to shift to the web. While video viewing is still the largest single use of the web, many other uses of broadband are still growing rapidly. In recent years we’ve moved a lot of the software we use daily to the cloud. Web-connected security cameras are becoming ubiquitous. Practically every device we buy for the home now talks to the Internet. I rarely had video calls before the pandemic, and it’s now a routine part of my workday.