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CBS has entered the realm of its streaming rivals — at least in terms of the way it measures viewing on a given platform.
The network on Wednesday released a chart showing how many minutes viewers have spent with CBS in the 2021-22 season so far, and it’s a staggeringly large number: 166.74 billion minutes with network programming across all dayparts over the first seven weeks of the season (Sept. 20 to Nov. 7), according to Nielsen figures. That’s equivalent to every person in the United States watching more than eight hours of CBS programming.
What the release doesn’t note is how that stacks up with streaming platforms, so The Hollywood Reporter dug into the available numbers there to come up with a comparison. More on that below.
CBS leads all other broadcasters in total minutes viewed, with NBC (130.84 billion minutes) coming in second. Fox is third, with 108.63 billion minutes; all three networks have regular NFL programming during the week that supplies several billion minutes of viewing time. (CBS says its viewers have watched 45 billion minutes of NFL coverage this fall). ABC — the only one of the big four networks without a regular NFL presence — has 98.54 billion minutes of watch time. (The figures only include network programming and not local news and syndicated programming on affiliates.)
Total viewing time is Nielsen’s metric for streaming programming, and CBS’ release is meant to point out the staying power of traditional TV in a time when, according to Nielsen’s most recent survey of TV usage, streaming has nudged past broadcast.
“While ‘time spent’ has mainly been a streamers’ metric, it actually demonstrates the continuing strength and scale of broadcast television, and CBS in particular,” said George Cheeks, president and CEO of CBS and chief content officer news and sports at ViacomCBS’ streaming outlet Paramount+.
To come up with a rough estimate for streaming, THR looked at Nielsen’s top 10 streaming charts for the first four weeks of the season (the only ones available as of publication time). From Sept. 20 to Oct. 17, the top 10 original series, acquired shows and movies in the charts amassed a total of 59.53 billion minutes of viewing time, or an average of 14.88 billion minutes per week. Extrapolating that to seven weeks gives a figure just over 104 billion minutes.
Of course, only looking at the Nielsen top 10s is pretty limiting: It excludes hundreds if not thousands of other titles on Disney+, Hulu, Apple TV+, Netflix and Prime Video, the five outlets Nielsen includes in its weekly reports — not to mention all the time users spend on HBO Max, Paramount+, Peacock and a host of niche streamers that aren’t reported publicly.
Without more data, it’s impossible to come up with a more precise tally for streaming. Given that streaming and broadcast have similar usage tallies, according to Nielsen (28 percent of total TV use for streaming and 26 percent for broadcast), it’s likely that the full streaming universe is on par with or slightly ahead of the 500 billion-plus minutes recorded for broadcasters.
Aside from the NFL, Netflix’s breakout hit Squid Game has racked up the most watch time with 10.45 billion minutes from Sept. 20 to Oct. 17. The biggest show CBS mentions individually is The Price Is Right; the long-running daytime game show has racked up 8.6 billion minutes of viewing in the fall.
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