Analysts Fear TV May Not Recover Pre-Pandemic Viewership Levels

Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

After a jump in viewership figures due to rising pandemic concerns in March and April, traditional linear TV viewership has continued to fall. Bernstein Research media analyst Todd Juenger thinks there’s no going back.

The takeaways:
  • Bernstein Research analysis of Nielsen data shows that traditional linear TV has fallen between 15% to 20% in July, compared to the same period in 2019.
  • According to media analyst Todd Juenger: “We believe viewership, TV advertising and pay-TV subscribers will not recover to their pre-crisis levels, and rate of decline will increase as SVOD [subscription video-on-demand services] substitution continues.”
  • Lower traditional TV viewership has forced advertisers to do “zero-based budgeting” for linear TV, with more money being re-allocated to digital platforms. Some, but not all of these funds, are expected to be captured by TV network companies.

By the numbers: Falling viewership figures for traditional TV is closely linked to the rise of online streaming platforms, and the cancellation of major sporting events.

  • Roku, Inc.’s latest annual cord-cutting study found that approximately 32% of U.S. TV households do not subscribe to traditional pay-TV (cable, satellite, telco). A further 45% plan to cut the cord fully in the next six months.
  • AT&T recently said it lost 954,000 subscribers (DirecTV, U-Verse, AT&T TV) in its Q2 reporting period.
  •  30% of US households cited the lack of live sports as the primary reason for cancelling their pay-TV subscriptions.

The bigger picture: More and more viewers are choosing to migrate to new and more flexible ways of watching TV. 160 million Americans stream on connected TV (CTV) every month, and CTV has grown by more than 300%.

Not everyone agrees: “I believe that there will be a very favorable reassessment of live TV, especially sports, as people realize how much they have missed the immediacy, drama and excitement that live TV offers,” says Rob Davis, President Local Media and CMO at NOVUS NEXT.

The roll-up: The figures from many sources point to a gloomy “new normal” for traditional TV. Its recovery depends on the ability to resume new productions and live sporting events, who’s fate continues to be in the hands of the pandemic.

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