Streaming Is Growing Up and That’s a Big Worry for Pay TV

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Older viewers are now among those who spend the most time watching streaming content

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How’s this for a plot twist: Among all age groups, the ones who are increasingly spending the most time watching Netflix or other streaming platforms are older viewers. This comes as the pay-TV bundle continues to dwindle as many of the likeliest consumers of the older legacy TV model are beginning to migrate toward streaming. According to Nielsen’s August Total Audience Report, people over the age of 55 account for the second-largest share of streaming viewing, with 26% during the second quarter of 2020. A year ago, that same group accounted for 19%. The only age group that accounts for more of streaming’s viewers are those between the ages of 35 and 54 (27%), the same group that watched the most a year ago. Overall time spent viewing streaming compared to last year spiked 74%, amounting to 142.5 billion minutes per week. It comprised exactly one-quarter of all television minutes viewed.
Netflix accounts for 32% of streaming viewing, followed by YouTube at 20%. Hulu comes in third with 11%, followed by Amazon at 8% and Disney at 4%.
Netflix gained a record amount of subscribers during the quarter and is on track to surpass 200 million total subs either by the end of 2020 or early in next year. Disney+, meanwhile,  already surpassed its own sub-goal of 60 million — four years ahead of schedule. HBO Max and Peacock also made their anticipated debuts within the last three months. A separate Nielsen survey, one focused on the impact of remote working during the pandemic, found that 25% of respondents added at least one new streaming service within the past three months, while only 2% said they dropped one. While streaming continues to gain traction, Pay TV providers posted another dismal quarter, with the top providers losing 1.58 million customers during Q2. That’s not great, but it was still somehow “good news” relative to Q1, when the industry combined for a record net loss of 2.1 million customers, or about 3% of its customer base. Another way to look at it: By the midpoint of 2020, cable and satellite providers had lost 3.68 million customers — easily putting the industry on pace to lap last year’s record total of 4.9 million subscribers. (The top TV providers, representing 95% of the U.S. market, accounted for 82.4 million subscribers at the end of the second quarter, according to data compiled by Leichtman Research Group.) These figures look especially dire when considering there were widespread lockdowns forcing millions of people to stay inside, due to the coronavirus pandemic. If Pay TV providers can’t hold onto customers when they have little else to do but sit on the couch, is the industry essentially a dead man walking? Bruce Leichtman, head of Leichtman Research Group, said it’s actually not as bleak as it appears. For one thing, he said Pay TV providers were impacted by the lack of sports in Q2 — something that likely won’t be the case moving forward, with the NBA and MLB already back, and the NFL season fast approaching. There’s more to the losses than that, he added. “What we saw in the [second] quarter really showed the significance of individual corporate strategies for the Pay TV providers,” Leichtman said. “The industry is not walking in lockstep.” In other words, TV simply isn’t a priority for some of the top providers anymore. Leichtman pointed out about 90% of Q2’s net losses came from AT&T and Comcast, the two biggest U.S. providers. For Comcast, “connectivity” is the main focus, Leichtman said, while for AT&T, it’s “mobile and then HBO Max.” Part of this is simply because it’s too expensive for them to acquire new customers. Leichtman said it costs AT&T about $1,000 to acquire a new TV customer. (This is, to Leichtman, one aspect of all cord-cutting stories that goes under-discussed: It’s not just about customers ditching their service; it’s also important to note Pay TV providers simply aren’t going out and winning new customers.) The difference in strategy is what leads providers like AT&T’s DirecTV to lose 846,000 customers last quarter, while Dish TV only lost 40,000. But when a composite picture of the industry is taken, all of the providers are lumped in together. And the picture, no matter what the contributing factors are, is an ugly one for the Pay TV industry.


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