If you want proof that the U.S. is easing out of quarantine, just look at TV ratings.
After climbing in March and April — while Americans hunkered down under stay-at-home orders — live television viewership has begun to plunge again. Even Netflix Inc. and other streaming services, seen as more resilient than traditional TV networks, are suffering a slide in demand. Streaming-video use has fallen by more than 25 percent from its peak in early April.Music consumption, meanwhile, is moving in the other direction. It declined during the pandemic because people often listen while in transit. Now it’s going up again.
Back in April, Bloomberg mapped out the changes in how people were watching movies, playing video games and listening to music. Now that many Americans are trying to put the pandemic behind them, we’re taking another look at the way it’s playing out in media.
The streaming boom is over.
The amount of time people in the U.S. spent streaming video spiked in the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, peaking at 169.9 billion minutes the week of April 6. (As big as that number sounds, it works out to about 76 minutes a day per person, which hardly sounds like much of a binge.) Netflix added a record number of customers in the first quarter of the year, while Disney+ and Hulu kept up their torrid growth as well.
But the streaming surge has since abated, back to pre-Covid levels of about 126 billion minutes a week, according to Nielsen. That’s not to say streaming is in trouble. People are still streaming about 50 percent more than they were a year ago.
TV viewership is back to free fall.
The lockdown was good news for TV networks, which had gotten used to seeing ugly numbers week after week. After losing 15 percent to 20 percent of their audience from a year earlier, networks started to see some of those viewers trickle back. Audiences were only down a few percentage points for most of March and April, which is a victory for an industry that has endured steep declines for most of the past decade.
But that little bit of good news didn’t last. TV networks are back to declines of 15 percent or more, and the drops are even steeper among kids’ TV networks.
News is the only winner. And sports is a big, big loser.
If you wanted to come up with positive spin for TV, it would be this: Ratings are way down because of the absence of live sports. Just look at ESPN, where May viewership fell more than 60 percent from a year ago. The culprit there is easy to find: The NBA is on pause. TNT was way down, too. Both networks typically carry the league’s playoffs.
But TV is also benefiting from unprecedented interest in news. Ratings for Fox News climbed 45 percent in the final four weeks of May, while CNN had an increase of 121 percent. And that was before the protests. It’s just not enough to make up for the broader declines.
Music listenership is getting back to normal.
After seven consecutive weeks of declines in music listening, the industry returned to normal in early May and hasn’t looked back. Music-video consumption has continued to climb as well, which means total consumption is up. Most musical genres suffered during the coronavirus lockdowns — but not all.