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Streaming Finally Beats Linear TV (Momentarily)

Linear broadcast, cable, and satellite TV viewership hit an all-time low in July while streaming rose to a record high. But ask yourself: Are you ready for some football?

Nielsen Gauge July 2023
The Nielsen Company

Did you hear that? That was the sound of the bottom falling out of linear television (standard broadcast, cable, and satellite) last month.

According to TV ratings and data firm Nielsen, viewership for linear TV dropped below 50% for the first time ever in July 2023, just as streaming TV usage hit a record high of 38.7%, an increase of nearly 3% over June.

Obviously, linear TV is dead, and streaming is the new king of the screens … right? Not exactly: Fall is right around the corner, which means NFL and college football will be rushing back onto TV—live linear TV. Football is still America’s 500-pound TV gorilla, and not even the weird summer resurgence of Suits on Netflix can compete with it.

But, fall football on linear TV is likely to have less of an impact on streaming alternatives this year because broadcast will have far fewer scripted comedies and dramas to offer due to the ongoing WGA/SAG-AFTRA Hollywood strike.

ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC are scheduling primetime blocks loaded with reality fare, game shows, and reruns this fall, which viewers are probably going to tire of quickly: Endless Big Brother footage and Law & Order: SVU reruns can only carry a network so far.

Also, NFL football is available to stream more this year than ever before: NFL+ will be adding NFL Network and NFL RedZone to its live streams, meaning fans won’t need a cable or satellite subscription to watch.

There’s also the much-hyped arrival of the NFL Sunday Ticket to live TV streaming service YouTube TV after almost 30 years tied to satellite provider DIRECTV, and even Peacock is getting in on live NFL coverage this season—beyond simulcasting NBC’s juggernaut Sunday Night Football, that is.

On-demand streaming TV is still going to take a hit after riding high this summer, so declaring it the ultimate victor over linear TV is still just the stuff of clickbait headlines (yes, we’re guilty of it, too).

Broadcast, cable, and satellite TV are still the favored platforms for NFL and college football, and, as soon as they kick off in September, streaming’s summer spike is going to be sacked.

After that, all we’ll be left with is colorful infographics and “What was the deal with Suits, anyway?” (Seriously, we need to get to the bottom of this.)

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