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Streaming viewership overtakes cable TV for the first time

Netflix and the other leading streaming services represented a record 34.8% share of total television consumption in the U.S. last month.
A scene from the fourth season of Netflix's "Stranger Things."
A scene from the fourth season of Netflix's "Stranger Things."Netflix

The day has come.

The leading streaming services drew more viewers than cable TV for the first time in July, according to a report released Thursday by the media firm Nielsen.

It's a milestone that has been anticipated by media analysts for years as consumers have been cutting the cord in droves and moving to internet-powered services.

Streaming represented a record-breaking 34.8% share of total television consumption in the U.S. last month, exceeding cable (34.4%) and broadcast (21.6%), according to The Gauge, Nielsen's monthly overview of viewership trends.

The aggregate use of streaming apps has overtaken broadcast in the past, but July's numbers are the first time streaming viewership has also exceeded cable viewing, according to Nielsen.

American audiences watched an average of 190.9 billion minutes of streamed content a week in July, Nielsen's research showed — eclipsing the average 169.9 billion minutes that viewers watched during the early pandemic lockdown period in April 2020.

The new research arrives as leading entertainment companies like Disney reorient their strategies around direct-to-consumer streaming platforms, investing less heavily in linear programming.

But the report also comes at an inflection point for the streaming market, which has started to show some signs that the days of seemingly limitless growth are nearing an end.

In May, Netflix reported its first subscriber loss in a decade. HBO Max, among legacy media's most successful forays into streaming, recently went through a round of layoffs ahead of a planned merger with Discovery's streaming app. Last week, Disney lowered long-term forecasts for its streaming operation.

Netflix nonetheless made up the biggest share of viewing for a streaming platform, with an 8% slice of the pie, according to Nielsen, thanks in part to the success of the fourth season of "Stranger Things." The popular science fiction series captured nearly 18 billion viewing minutes.

But other leading digital distributors each notched record-high shares in July.

YouTube reached a 7.3% share. Hulu, powered in part by the acclaimed shows "Only Murders in the Building" and "The Bear," hit 3.6%. Prime Video, boosted by the new action series "The Terminal List" and new episodes of "The Boys," netted 3%.