Live Streaming Grows, But Traditional Television Falters

Cutting the cord with cable has TV viewers turning to on-demand and live streaming video to get their cable content fix.

Currently, according to Pew Research Center, “24 [percent] of Americans do not subscribe to cable or satellite TV in their homes.” When it’s broken down to younger Americans — 18 to 24 years old — that number rises to 35 percent.

Without cable, people are turning to on-demand streaming platforms like Netflix or Hulu. And to find live events — like sports or award shows, they have to rely on streaming services like SlingTV or DirecTV, with agreements with the networks airing the events.

As award show viewers have recently found, broadcast networks even require a cable login to access to their live streams online. Such is the case with ABC, which broadcasts the Oscars, or CBS with the Emmy’s.

Earlier this month, the Golden Globes faced backlash because it did not host a live stream online at all. Due to NBC’s contract with the Hollywood Foreign Press, which runs the awards, the network doesn’t have streaming rights (though, according to Decider, they are working to gain those rights).

Initial reports of there being an online streaming option left hopeful online viewers disappointed to find that there was, in fact, no live stream. The live online coverage that was advertised (saying “Follow LIVE coverage”) turned out to be an aggregation of tweets. Despite that mishap, it was the second most-watched Golden Globes in ten years, perhaps thanks to the Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon hosting.

Edmund Lee, a managing editor at Recode explained in an interview with MediaFile that the networks are still making the bulk of their money from TV audiences. Cable networks get money from advertisers as well as cable distributors. “The TV ecosystem brings in a dual revenue stream… Online streaming only brings ad dollars.”

However, Lee said, the networks understand that audiences are shifting. “As more people flock online and cut the cord, TV networks are more willing to make programming available via streams.”

Other award shows are even looking to their streaming numbers to show they are still drawing audiences. Both last year’s Grammys and MTV Video Music Awards saw drops from the previous year — the VMA’s in particular saw a 34 percent drop in audience numbers despite the broadcast going out over 11 Viacom networks.

But what these two award shows can boast about is their steaming numbers. Live streaming on CBS All Access went up 247 percent, according to the network. MTV saw similar spikes on their website and on Facebook.

And, Lee noted, if the audiences are continuing to grow there, the networks will work with them. He said, “As more people flock online and cut the cord, TV networks are more willing to make programming available via streams.”

The Rio Olympics also had disappointing viewership for NBC. Total viewership was down by 9 percent with traditional television viewing down by 28 percent, but streaming was again the saving grace. NBC Broadcasting & Sports chairman Mark Lazarus told The L.A. Times that 10 percent of their ad sales came from streamed content.

“We were surprised it grew as much as it did,” Lazarus told the paper, speaking about the growth in minutes streamed. He also said he now expected live streaming and the ad revenue to grow in future years.

Last year’s Oscars, the top-rated non-sports program on television, hit its lowest overall audience numbers in eight years, with 34.4 million viewers, though it was amid the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. However, ABC did report a 1 percent increase in 18-34 year old viewers.

The network did not release their streaming numbers, though in past years they have had trouble with streams going out due to traffic. Customers complained the stream would cut out during parts of the show due to too many people tuning in at once. The stream of the telecast was only available to customers who pay for cable, where other networks allow audiences to stream without a cable log in.

But live streams can’t be blamed for the scattered success or failure of live televised events. The Super Bowl, one of the biggest live television events, has consistent cable viewership coupled with an expanding streaming audience.

Except for 2013, Super Bowls for the last six years maintained consistent viewership numbers at or over 111 million people — with a record-setting 114.4 million people tuning in to the 2015 game. Like the VMA’s, the Super Bowl is broadcast across the various networks, to much larger success.

While the NFL isn’t hurting for viewer numbers during the Super Bowl, live stream numbers have also continued to expand. Audiences were as large as 800,000 viewers per minute in 2015 and continued to climb to 1.4 million per minute the following year. The NFL has a live stream deal with Twitter for the Thursday night games, but the Super Bowl will not be streamed over the popular social media site this February.

But Lee argues they aren’t worried about the streaming numbers. “The networks that paid lots of money to air the games don’t want to cannibalize their audiences by also making the streams available online,” said Lee. “But they grudgingly went along as more people flocked to the internet.”

The Super Bowl alternates airing between FOX, CBS, and NBC according to the current contract with the NFL, but that doesn’t stop audiences from finding the game both through traditional and online means.

“Sports is the most valuable programming because it’s the one thing you have to watch live,” said Lee. “That’s why the NFL charges billions of dollars to the networks for the rights to air the games.”

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