MoffettNathanson: bleak prospects for US linear TV | Media Analysis | Business | News | Rapid TV News
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Linear viewing appears headed to a world of “live” programming while almost every other genre is served on demand, driven by older power viewers, says a blunt analysis of the US TV market from leading US media analyst MoffettNathanson.
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Among the lowlights for the industry revealed in the analyst’s round up of the year are that cable and broadcast networks have seen their audience reach evaporate, falling double digits over the past several years. Moreover, the analyst warned, this reach is increasingly focused on older, power users of live content.

MoffettNathanson noted that while broadcast has always skewed older, the aging of cable networks has been a troubling constant theme. It added that broadcast and cable networks had been trending towards older demographics for years, and that trend continued in 2021, with 68% of total day (TD) cable network viewership and 69% of TD broadcast viewership aged 50 or older in Q4 2021. Only 6% of TD cable networks viewers and 5% of TD broadcast viewers in Q4 2021 were aged 17 or younger.

After what it called an “intense” news cycle of 2020, cable news ratings took a major hit in 2021, with CNN, Fox News and MSNBC taking the second, third and fourth biggest declines to their TD ratings, respectively. These three channels — still the three largest despite their declines — accounted for 59% of the total decline in time viewed across all cable channels from 2020 to 2021. Kids-focused content providers suffered from the rise of streaming. Cartoon Network’s ratings took the biggest hit of any channel at 34% down and Nickelodeon faced a 23% drop. ESPN was the only channel in the top networks to experience ratings growth (+15%) in 2021.

Broadcast networks actually bounced back in 2021 helped by sports, in particular led by the NFL and the Summer Olympics. Fox’s ratings were flat in 2021, but were actually up 9% excluding the 2020 Super Bowl. CBS had overall growth of 2%, but shrank 1% excluding the 2021 Super Bowl. ABC had the worst year of the lot, losing 7% of its ratings from 2020 while NBC’s ratings increased 5% from 2020 due in part to the broadcast of the Summer Olympics in July 2021.

For cable networks, general entertainment, kids programming and films have been the hardest hit genres, with only sports and news bucking dramatic declines in viewership. Indeed the analyst warned that there has been a “dramatic” reduction in the consumption of original scripted cable network content as audiences move to SVOD for that fare.

Noting that the decline of pay-TV was unquestioned, the study also found that non-live time viewed has “fallen off a cliff’, dropping on average 8% annually over the past 10 years. Live time viewed, however, was flat despite there being several million fewer pay-TV homes in the US. MoffettNathanson concluded that sports, and to a lesser extent news, is where pay-TV continues to distinguish itself and will continue to find a lifeline.