Nielsen data puts streaming ahead of cable for first time

The Onn Android TV streaming device. (Photo courtesy Walmart.com, Graphic by The Desk)

More people watched television through streaming services than cable television for the first time, according to measurement data reported by Nielsen Media Research this week.

In a press release, the company said its analytics found nearly 35 percent of television consumption involved a streaming television service last month, compared to just over 34 percent via traditional cable television.

As part of its survey, Nielsen says it incorporated two streaming television services — YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV — in both the “streaming” and “cable television” category. Both offer live access to cable networks as part of their core offering.

The result of the survey was based on data provided by Nielsen participants. The analytics firm has been criticized in the past by television networks for perceived inaccuracies in its reporting.

During the two-year coronavirus pandemic, television networks like NBC complained that Nielsen’s reporting undercounted television audiences. An audit conducted by a third party found Nielsen had undercounted some key demographics by as much as six percent. A trade group later claimed Nielsen’s undercounting cost its broadcast members at least $468 million in lost advertising revenue.

While broadcast and cable networks might challenge Nielsen’s reporting, streaming services are leaning in to anything that finds consumer habits shifting away from traditional television.

“Streaming is working everywhere,” Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, said last month, adding that he felt the end of traditional broadcast television would come “over the next five [to] 10 years.”

Consumers view streaming services favorably because they tend to be cheaper and offer more-accessible programming compared to traditional cable or satellite packages. While cable and satellite still rely on promotional deals offered through long-term contracts, streaming services typically don’t include hidden fees or commitments, and they’re available on a vast number of devices, including phones and tablets.

But streaming services have a problem of their own: Consumers are increasingly dropping services when they’re done watching a program or movie. According to data released from the analytics firm Antenna, around 20 percent of subscribers to services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and HBO Max canceled at least three of their streaming subscriptions over a recent two-year period.