Streaming TV Usage Nearly Doubles in Less Than 2 Years, Nielsen Says

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A record 532 original scripted series aired on television in 2019, according to research from cable network FX. The network's annual figure is the most commonly cited number to show how programming has mushroomed in the Peak TV era.

In terms of the sheer volume of content, though, the FX figure understates what's available — by a factor of more than 1,000, according to data from Nielsen.

The ratings service's latest total audience report takes a deep dive into the streaming ecosystem, revealing that the majority of TV consumers pay for more than one SVOD service, that streaming usage in OTT-capable households has nearly doubled in less than two years and that there is a virtually endless supply of content available to those users.

The headline number in the report illustrates the incredible amount of content that makes up the TV universe. Using data from the Nielsen-owned Gracenote (which powers TV listings guides and search functions for on-demand providers), the company determined that in 2019 alone, a mind-boggling 646,152 unique program titles were available across every linear and streaming outlet. That's every series (current and past), movie, special, news program, sports telecast and kids' show that ran on one platform or another, from broadcast networks to Netflix to niche streaming services.

That staggering number does not count individual episodes, Nielsen senior vp audience insights Peter Katsingris told The Hollywood Reporter: "There are [236] episodes of Friends, but Friends just counts once here. You can imagine when people go to choose content, they can get very specific."

Only 9 percent of those — again, 646,152 — titles are available exclusively on SVOD services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon's Prime Video, and 16 percent are exclusive to linear TV. The greatest share of programs, about two-thirds, can be accessed via transactional VOD — buying or renting a show through Amazon, Apple, a cable company or another provider.

Nielsen also surveyed 1,000 adults who use streaming video or audio and found that a solid majority, 60 percent, subscribe to more than one video service. Adults 18-34 were the most likely to have multiple subscriptions, with nearly half (47 percent) saying they have at least three subscriptions compared with 30 percent for the entire sample.

What's more, 93 percent of survey respondents who use a streaming service said they would keep or increase the number of platforms they subscribe to, with only 3 percent planning to drop one or more (4 percent were unsure).

That suggests "there's room for new entrants into the environment," said Katsingris. Two major media companies, WarnerMedia and Comcast, are set to launch their own platforms in the coming months, and ViacomCBS is looking to expand its existing CBS All Access platform. Shortform streamer Quibi is also launching in April, five months after Disney and Apple each debuted their own services.

"Right now as we're looking at streaming services, it seems like they're pretty much all additive, with very few people that are dropping or not sure they're going to decrease," said Katsingris.

The explosion in streaming content has also, unsurprisingly, led to a rise in streaming consumption. Nielsen says streaming now makes up 19 percent of total TV usage in OTT-capable homes in the last three months of 2019, up from 10 percent in the first quarter of 2018. (Adults spent an average of not quite five hours per day watching video on a TV screen, either linear TV or streaming via a connected device.)

Netflix accounts for the largest share of that streaming usage with 31 percent of usage. YouTube follows with 21 percent, while Hulu grabs 12 percent and Amazon 8 percent. The remaining 28 percent goes to all other streaming brands — including Disney+ and Apple TV+, which launched in November.

Nielsen hasn't yet broken out streaming time for the new platforms but will do so in the future, Katsingris said.

"I think what you can expect to see is that as other services come out, and before we break anything else out, this 28 percent will probably get bigger, and you'll see pressure applied to the other brands," said Katsingris. "Not to say [consumers] are not watching the other brands, they just have more options now and are shifting their behaviors. People go from platform to platform depending on what's available. But as the [new services] mature we'll break them out, because we definitely want to see the impact a new streaming service does have on this ecosystem."