The TV ratings haven’t given traditional network executives and investors much reason to cheer lately. But they shouldn’t become too gloomy, a report out today from MoffettNathanson Research’s Michael Nathanson suggests.
Netflix accounted for about half of the 3% drop in their viewing hours last year — not including Web connected devices — the analyst says in his deep dive into data from Nielsen and other sources. And he believes the streaming video power’s period of explosive growth is about to end.
That makes Netflix “a source of industry pain, but not necessarily a cause of industry death,” he says.
Nathanson had to make a lot of assumptions to reach his conclusions: Netflix discloses little about its audience size and composition.
But it’s been on top of investors’ minds since mid-2014 when they began to see what Nathanson describes as “a massive deceleration” in viewing among young people.
Some of that was due to the rapid growth of Netflix and other streaming services including Hulu and Amazon Prime.About 60% of all broadband homes subscribed to at least one subscription video on demand (SVOD) service at the end of 2015.
Nathanson says, though, that “SVOD and broadband are rich people’s products.” As a result, “it will be very interesting to watch how much more upside to penetration there is in the lower income buckets, many of which do not have broadband access in the first place.”
Older viewers also may not warm to Netflix as much as younger ones did. While more than half of young people subscribe to an SVOD service, only 23% of those over 65 do so.
On top of that, some networks seem to do just fine in the new environment. For example, he says, “networks like ESPN and Adult Swim surprisingly show more hours of consumption in Netflix homes than non-Netflix homes, which suggests that they are essential to core Netflix users.”
That may indicate “there is more pain to be felt at General Entertainment networks that don’t have live, must-have programming (Sports and originals) to lure viewers in.”
The bottom line, then, is “the majority of pain has been felt,” by the networks that appeal to the young and affluent — while Netflix now must go after “older and poorer consumers who appear satisfied with current broadcast choices.”
Others appear less confident that traditional media have weathered the storm.
For example, Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger notes today that there’s no sign yet of ratings stabilization: “TV viewership remains significantly down, at least in the demos and dayparts that matter for advertising.”
So far in 2016, he says, total viewing is down 6% vs the same period last year with broadcasters down 10%, kids cable down 3%, and non-kids cable also down 3%.
There’ve been “sharp spikes in the cable news networks driven by the political cycle (which we have to lap next year),” he says. “Kids viewing, which fell the farthest, first, has been leveling off for a few quarters now (but still remains down the most, by far, compared to two-year-ago levels). The broadcast networks are having a very tough start to 2016.”
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