Are the FASTs Gaining Ground on the Streamers?

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(Welcome to the Entertainment Strategy Guy, a newsletter on the entertainment industry and business strategy. I write a weekly Streaming Ratings Report and a bi-weekly strategy column, along with other articles, like today’s. Please subscribe.)

Since the last two “Streaming Ratings Reports” have gone long, I didn’t get to my usual analysis of Nielsen’s The Gauge, one of my favorite snapshots of the streaming wars. The Gauge is Nielsen’s monthly breakdown of how folks consume video on their living room TV, broken out by streamer and video type (broadcast, cable, streaming and “other TV”).

The big headlines (and, in this case, this update certainly merited a big headline) were that broadcast and cable TV’s share of viewing dropped below 50% for the first time:

Much credit went to “streaming” as a category, and indeed over the last year, streaming has grown from 34.8% of viewership to 38.7%, a big jump. (The “other TV” category, actually shrank going from 12.5% of viewing last July to 11.6% this year.) Dating back to May of 2021, streaming was only 26% of TV viewing. (Though Nielsen changed methodologies last July—specifically how they counted YouTube Live TV and Hulu Live TV—hence why my charts only go back to July-2022. Potentially, streaming was even smaller than that.)

The share of streamers show this rise:

That’s the traditional graph I make each month. But you know me. I always like to look for the angle, the slightly deeper dive you probably haven’t seen yet. And that brings us to the visual of the week. 

What stuck out to me, looking at the growth over time, is that the “streamers” themselves seem relatively flat. And that’s a good reminder that “streaming” encompasses everything from streaming video-on-demand (SVOD like Netflix, Hulu, etc) to advertising video-on-demand (basically only YouTube) and FASTs (free, advertising-supported streaming TV, which feature linear channels mainly, like Pluto TV and Tubi). 

So I grouped them together:

Here are the “5Ws” for the data above:

Who – Nielsen
What – Total Hours Viewed
What – By Type (Broadcast, Cable, Streaming, and “Other”)
What 2 – By Streamer
Where – In America
Where 2 – On Living Room TVs
When – From July 2022 to July 2023

The wild card in this analysis is actually a fourth type of viewing: virtual MVPD, or cable bundles distributed via the internet. Nielsen actually counts this as “broadcast or cable”, so the growth of YouTube Live TV, Hulu Live TV and others means that cord-cutting is probably even more prominent than this look suggests. (And again, this is just living room TVs. If you count mobile devices, the share of video consumed by streamers goes up again.)

Here are the growth rates from July-2022 to July-2023:

Interesting, yeah? 

And yes, partly the FASTs category grew a lot because they started from a smaller place. (In fact, the growth rate above is from Sep-2022, the first time a FAST—Pluto TV—made the charts.) But even in real terms the growth of FASTs nearly equaled the total growth of streamers (SVOD grew at 3.9% while FASTs grew at 3.4%). But YouTube by itself grew 2.5%, so most of the growth in these streaming numbers came not from subscription-based services, but advertising-based services. (And yes, all the streamers added ad-supported tiers in the last year too.)

Last caveat: some of the growth is “noise”, in that Nielsen only puts certain streamers on their reports once they pass the—roughly—1% threshold. So it wasn’t like no one was watching FASTs before July of 2022, just that Nielsen didn’t report any viewership yet. (Specifically, they bundle it in the “Other” category.) That said, I do think the growth in FAST viewing is legitimate: the “other” category went down from 6.9% to 5.1% over this time period, but that included some major streamers leaving the “other category” as well. Since July-2022, Nielsen started publishing viewership data for Paramount+, Peacock, Pluto TV, Tubi and The Roku Channel. Amazon FreeVee is probably the biggest FAST not included.

Really, this look is just a taste of the future. One of the big strategic questions is where the growth of the next round of streaming comes from. In other words,  about 50% of TV viewing is still on traditional devices that will someday shift to streaming. Will that shift reward the streaming incumbents like Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu and Disney+…or the FASTs/AVODs like YouTube, Pluto TV, Tubi and Amazon FreeVee? Or somewhere in between?

My gut, as I’ve written before, is more of the latter, and a lot more than a lot of folks expect. I think the free services—even with the ads—offer something that clearly the streamers don’t.

I mean, if we take a look at all TV viewership by type, you can see broadcast and cable still drive a lot of viewing:

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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