Linear TV Loses Half Its Viewers As Streaming Services Soar

It’s true. Within just three years, linear television has lost nearly half its viewers. What factors are driving the shift, and how can marketers adapt to -- and profit from -- the changes? 

Our nationwide survey of consumers’ media consumption habits on platforms such as live TV, streaming services, gaming, and social media produced several useful insights.

Viewers are “Streaming” to Quality Content

Despite losing subscribers for the first time in eight years -- and no doubt aided by the drastic decline of live television -- Netflix remains the preferred method (61%) for watching TV programs among U.S. consumers, followed closely by YouTube.

Players like Hulu are also gaining viewers, with popular original programming such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and a just-announced Disney+ bundle that includes Hulu and ESPN+ for $12 a month, set to launch in November.



Convenience Drives the Shift to Streaming

Convenience is still the top reason consumers prefer streaming methods over cable or satellite. For Gen Z, virtually born with connected devices in hand, streaming is the preferred viewing method by far.

Highly anticipated streaming services from recognized brands like Apple will proffer even more choices. If these options live up to expectations, it could spell disaster for linear TV and cable/satellite.

Another factor impacting cable/satellite is insufficient programming. DirectTV, for example, recently dropped CBS-owned stations in select markets after the network and AT&T failed to reach a new agreement. The biggest loser? Consumers. As their paid-for channels go dark, the solution for many will be to drop cable/satellite and start streaming content when and where they please.

Habit may be all that’s keeping cable/satellite in play since switching on the TV is second nature for older generations. 

On a positive note, cable/satellite companies’ continued investment in Spanish-language content is paying off. But is it enough to retain cable subscribers?

Gaming and Social Continue a Steady Climb

Streaming isn’t the only media seeing an uptick in usage. Gaming and social media enjoy a dedicated following and have become increasingly mobile. 

Gaming on consoles and desktops dropped from 41% in 2017 to just under 30% in 2019 and will likely continue to decline as younger generations use mobile devices for online gaming.

Social media users spend nearly two and a half hours a day on social media, and 40% of users aged 18-22 say they’re addicted to it. 

Brands take note: Gen Y is the least trustful of brands on social media. To elude brand targeting, they use private social media apps such as WhatsApp.

What It All Means

Live TV, while clearly in decline, still enjoys a fair percentage of the total market. But as consumers play “musical chairs” with online options, marketers and content creators have a unique opportunity to observe what works and what elicits a collective "meh" from consumers, and then apply these insights to create audience-pleasing content and offers that rise above the din. The music hasn’t stopped yet.

12 comments about "Linear TV Loses Half Its Viewers As Streaming Services Soar".
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  1. Andy Wiedlin from Wave Sports, September 5, 2019 at 2:48 p.m.

    These are startling statistics. Can you please share more details and the source for this info? thanks

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 5, 2019 at 3:15 p.m.

    Andy, don't you know that three years ago 250% of all adults watched "linear TV" in a week but now, its weekly reach is only 86%? And don't you realize that three years ago, the average adult spent 15 hours per day watching "linear TV" fare but now the average daily dosage is a mere 4.3 hours? I'm shocked that this isn't common knowledge. Here are some other "facts". The average adult spends 10 hours per day watching streaming content and millennials,  not surprisingly, top this norm easily with 18 hours per day of streaming activity. And that's just the average person---who, by the way lives somewhere in southwestern Indiana, I believe. Needless to say, frequent streamers do at least double the average in terms of time spent streaming.

  3. Daniel Cohen from Cohen Media, September 5, 2019 at 3:52 p.m.

    Is this an april fools joke? NOt sure what stats he is using for this article. % wise straeam has grown dramatically and linear is down but in raw numbers hours wathc for linear is still way ahead of streamng 

  4. Michael Atkin from Michael Atkin Communications replied, September 5, 2019 at 4:35 p.m.

    But Ed. It’s true. Their survey says.

  5. Fraser E from Opinions expressed herein are solely my own, September 5, 2019 at 10:40 p.m.

    TV has lost half its viewers?  As in, half the number of people watch linear TV compared to the number who did 3 years ago?  What a crock of shit.  According to Nielsen's Q1 2019 Total Audience Report, Live + Time Shifted TV reaches 86% of adults weekly.  So is this report to say that it somehow reached 172% of adults weekly 3 years ago?  No?  So what IS it saying?  Doesn't matter.  How is this kind of grease-stained pulp fiction even allowed to be published here at MEDIAPost?

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 6, 2019 at 9:14 a.m.

    What's amazing about this particular report is the evident failure to take note of what the other research on the subject---Nielsen, MRI, Simmons, etc. are saying about the extent of TV viewing and its rate of decline. Also, how could it be that TV ad revenues are more or less flat---growth-wise---- but not way down as one might expect if viewing had actually tanked to the degree claimed. Surely, many advertisers would have greatly trimmed down their TV spending if its audience was cut in half---wouldn't they?

    If I did a study---or series of studies ---that showed what was reported in this article and the findings indicated such a departure from what  the other evidence has revealed---basically a slow and modest shift downward in total viewing time---about 4% per year according to Nielsen---I would wonder whether my study was what they call in political polls an "outlier" and try to determine what I was doing wrong---bad sample, poorly framed questions, etc. rather than heralding the findings in a public forum. Failing that, I would talk about my study in a relative sense, not an absolute one---pointing out trends but not going for the "shocking", attention grabbing headline.

  7. Michael Smith from Michael Smith Media, September 6, 2019 at 11:55 a.m.

    The headline is misleading.  The overall number of linear TV viewers is actually pretty stable, but younger viewers are watching fewer hours. Linear TV viewing hours are down 24% overall since 2010 per Nielsen.  A25-34 is down 51%, but 50-64 is only down 8% and 65+ is up 4%.    

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 6, 2019 at 12:23 p.m.

    Michael, as you point out, the amount of time spent with "linear TV" is down ---but is declining by only a few percentage points per year. Also, while younger adults have reduced their viewing time to a far greater degree, because they, as a group, are relatively light viewers their "weight" in the overall time spent stats is much less than the 55+ segments. Also, when it comes to reach, "linear TV" still hits a huge percentage of all age groups. Where 95% of all adults once watched one or more "TV" shows weekly, the current figure is in the  mid 80s and if one takes a longer view---say four weeks---"TV's reach rises to 90-92%. Even among Millennials, reach has been less affected than frequency, meaning that if your sole aim was to rech 18-34s with TV commercials, and you were willing to attain sufficient reach over the course of several weeks as opposed to seven days, you could attain very high coverage levels using the right mix of show and network types.

  9. Daniel Cohen from Cohen Media, September 6, 2019 at 1:41 p.m.

    I think the author and the site really need to retract this article or at least provide where the research is from. Does anyone from the site read these articles before they are published?

    I am not a fan of Trump but this is a perfect example of fake news!

  10. Michael Atkin from Michael Atkin Communications replied, September 6, 2019 at 2:12 p.m.

    Daniel, agree totally. Otherwise we're going to start reading about space aliens here.

  11. John Grono from GAP Research, September 6, 2019 at 10:06 p.m.

    Good news!   You call all relax.

    I've found the half of linear TV viewers who have been lost to linear TV viewing.

    They were sitting in front of their TVs watching programmes, and not on some connected device responding to surveys.

  12. Gian Fulgoni from 4490 Ventures, September 7, 2019 at 12:47 a.m.

    So sad that "research" has come to this. The easier and cheaper it is to run an online survey, the more misinterpretation and nonsense conclusions we are fed.

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