Traditional TV Viewing Drops to New Low, Sets Stage for Major Shift in Sports Streaming

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Traditional TV usage, defined by broadcast and pay television services (cable and satellite), dropped below 50% for the first time in history, according to Nielsen’s monthly streaming report.

Broadcast television watching dropped to 20% in July, and pay-TV customers fell to 29.6% of television viewers. On the other side, streaming services hit an all-time high of 38.7% of television usage, while video-on-demand, DVD playback, and audio streaming accounted for 11.6%.

When the NFL and college football return in the next two weeks, Nielsen expects broadcast television to rebound somewhat. Sports held up the numbers for traditional TV in July, with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on Fox and ESPN’s coverage of the Home Run Derby and the College World Series topping the list of most-watched programs.

Sports is still king of broadcast and cable. But streaming is changing the way we watch sports, and it will change it further in the future.

The MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+ has been a big success for the league, fueled by the incredible play of Lionel Messi and his immediate impact on Inter Miami. Major League Baseball also has a Friday night national game on Apple TV+ each week, and Apple has extended its baseball coverage to 60 countries around the world. Last year, they streamed games in 13 countries.

The big one, of course, is the NFL moving its coveted Sunday Ticket to YouTube TV. It had been the exclusive property of DirecTV since 1994. 

Last year, the NFL moved Thursday Night Football from cable over to Amazon Prime, making the streaming service the first exclusive home of one of its broadcast packages. Amazon had shared Thursday Night Football since 2017.

Change With the Times or Die

The Pac-12’s inability to recognize the changing television landscape and fully embrace the potential deal they were working on with Apple is one of the reasons the conference is in ruins. 

Regional cable companies are fleeing live sports. Diamond Sports Group once owned the rights to 42 professional sports team’s broadcasts. Now it is bankrupt. Warner Bros. Discovery is working to give the media rights back to the teams it covers in Colorado, Texas, and Pennsylvania. 

Others are figuring out how to stay in the sports game in spite of the changes. NESN, the long-time broadcaster of the Boston Red Sox, and the YES Network, which broadcasts the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets, have introduced streaming apps along with its cable television packages.

Monumental Sports Network, which purchased the rights to the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals last year from Comcast, is offering viewers alternate broadcast feeds, including betting-focused feeds.

Making matters even harder for the regional sports networks is the number of cable providers that are offering customers cheaper options that don’t include RSNs. Dan Finnerty, senior VP and GM of Spectrum Networks, said of the evolving market, “Regular season professional sports programming remains extremely popular with a core base of traditional cable, satellite, and OTT customers. That said, given these customers represent a relatively small percentage of the overall video subscriber base, and recognizing the marked increase in direct-to-consumer choices, the model for RSNs needs to evolve to reflect the realities of the current marketplace.”

It’s a marketplace that is squeezing out broadcast and cable networks, and embracing the portability and flexibility of streaming.

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