Streaming services pulled ahead of cable TV in viewers, barely

There are a lot of caveats to consider with Nielsen's numbers.
First-person photo of someone using remote control to scroll through Netflix menu on TV

Nielsen's reports that streaming services inched by cable TV last month. Deposit Photos

Streaming platforms finally passed a dramatic milestone last month… sort of. We think. Maybe.

The major market analysis firm Nielsen reports that the combined viewership of services like Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and YouTube managed to surpass cable television’s total audiences last month—a first for the industry, although one with quite a few caveats.

First, the numbers: According to Nielsen, approximately 34.8 percent of the total time households spent watching television in July was done via streaming, compared to 34.4 percent through cable TV. That’s roughly 190.9 billion minutes of Stranger Things, The Bear, and What We Do in the Shadows, for those keeping score. Of the streaming total, about 8 percent went to Netflix, followed by 7.3 percent for YouTube and 3.6 percent for Hulu. The new top medium comes after four straight months of steady gains from streaming viewers.

[ Related: “How to follow as shows come and go on Netflix” ]

Nielsen infographic of television viewership sources for July 2022
Source: Nielsen

Now, for the many addendums to this supposed major moment within the entertainment industry. It’s important to note that 0.4 percent is hardly a blowout statistic. In fact, it could be a margin of error. To be fair, Nielsen only surveys actual television hours logged by viewers—no other ways to watch the content like smartphones, tablets, and laptops are considered—which suggests that streaming’s portion of the pie is potentially larger than reported. That said, here’s where it gets a little tricky.

Streaming companies, by and large, are in a whole lot of hurt right now. Even aside from failed experiments like the recent demise of CNN+, businesses like Netflix and HBO Max are struggling to maintain their foothold, with the latter losing approximately 970,000 paid subscribers in Q2 2022. That’s on top of Q1 2022’s loss of 200,000 customers. To solve its problems, Netflix is reportedly on the verge of rolling out a slightly cheaper, ad-supported membership tier. HBO Max, meanwhile, is also suffering: Just earlier this week, the company announced it laid off 70 employees. Things arguably aren’t looking much better over at Disney, either.

It has taken a lot of growing pains for the streaming industry to finally top cable television’s viewership numbers, barely. The question now is whether or not companies like Netflix and HBO Max can extend their lead over cable without shooting themselves in the foot through bad PR, failed original programming, gutting of beloved show rosters, and alienating subscribers with increased pricing and ads.