Never in the history of television have audiences had the breadth of choice that they have today. While that is not news to anyone, the extreme volume of content has a tendency to overshadow its long-term value, especially when all eyes are typically focused on the latest hit to land on any of the big streaming services, Nielsen analyzed in its latest report.
The most recent streaming hit “Suits,” however, is anything but typical. It is also not an original. And while the incredible viewership it has attracted speaks to the enduring attraction of acquired content, this title is effectively indistinguishable from an original because of the large audience that it is attracting, Nielsen says.
Viewership for “Suits” has been staggering – as well as newsworthy. In addition to attracting a different audience from when it was on USA Network, “Suits” is timely – given that it ended its run on basic cable in 2019 – which is somewhat unique from other popular acquired programs like “Seinfeld,” “The Office” and “Friends.” The show also originally aired at a time when cord-cutting was well underway, possibly hiding it from streaming-first audiences.
Capturing the attention of an audience is a powerful thing, and there is incredible value in that, Nielsen assures. Among the more than ten hours that Americans spend with media each day, TV commands the biggest share: half the total. As the industry is well aware, audiences continue to gravitate to streaming services: in July of this year, audiences spent a record 38.7% of their TV time with streaming content.
“The media industry has always understood the value of content, but few of us could have imagined how sprawling and fragmented the TV landscape would become – or even how the definition of TV would change. Today, the audience has all the control, combined with all the choice. And while there is no mistaking the value of what they spend their time watching, US audiences now have more than 31.500 different channels and streaming sources to find content on. That is a massive shift from aggregated grids of scheduled, provider-chosen option,” the report reads.
According to Nielsen, this complexity magnifies the importance of the core tenet of modern media measurement: exposure. At face value, understanding who is watching, for how long and how often provides a baseline for program and channel performance. But as the landscape fragments and choice increases, that baseline needs to be universally applicable and interoperable.
Viewing data for the CBS drama “S.W.A.T.” tells, for example, that the show is a favorite among streaming audiences, as they watched 891 million minutes of the drama during the week of June 26 – making it the fourth most-streamed show of that week. For content creators and distributors, this data validates the popularity of the program.
However, as individual programs and movies become available across multiple services, individual channels need to understand their share of the total audience. In the case of “S.W.A.T.,” viewership during the week of June 26 was spread across three different platforms: Hulu, Netflix and Paramount+. This is where comparable, consistent and deduplicated metrics provide the industry with unprecedented visibility into viewership wherever it happens, Nielsen pointed out.
That visibility will become increasingly more critical as streaming content libraries grow and individual titles span multiple services and platforms. In June of this year, 84% of the more than 1 million video titles available to US audiences were available on streaming platforms. Moreover, very little video content today is exclusive to a specific channel or service.
While “Suits” is a clear stand-out, its popularity highlights the enduring longevity of content – something that streaming is evolving to capitalize on. The three free ad-supported television (FAST) channels that are independently measured in Nielsen’s The Gauge, for example, had grown to account for 3.4% of total TV usage in July, and FAST channels are almost exclusively built with acquired content.
This rise of FAST channels is not an experiment in streaming audience engagement. In May 2023, acquired content accounted for 60% of streaming viewing. This trend also holds true among young viewers. Last year, for example, 18 of the 25 most-streamed programs by women 18-34 originally aired on traditional networks years before. This audience streamed just under 77 billion minutes of these shows, with titles like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gilmore Girls” easily outpacing “Stranger Things.”
“What does all of this tell us? As the TV landscape transforms, the industry is just starting to understand the value of its vast supply of content. No one knows audiences like Nielsen does, and the nuances of today’s TV landscape are what we look forward to exploring, with our partners, every day,” the report concluded.