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Survey: Over 33% of Homes Only Access TV via Internet; Are Audiences Ready for Streaming-Only Sports?

David Satin

Despite many in the industry predicting the imminent demise of cable, linear TV providers continue to hang on. Older viewers still prefer linear TV to streaming, especially for watching live sports.

However, fewer and fewer homes across the U.S. are using linear methods to access TV. According to a new survey by media research giant Nielsen, more than one-third of domestic households now access TV completely via the internet. In 2014, just eight years ago, that number was 2.5%

Sports leagues have not been hesitant to take advantage of this growing market segment. The NFL switched “Thursday Night Football” to a streaming-only format on Prime Video, and its out-of-market games package NFL Sunday Ticket is almost certain to be a streaming-only product in the 2023 season and beyond. At least half of current Sunday Ticket subscribers will follow the package wherever it goes, and the likelihood of picking up new customers is high.

Indeed, Americans are growing increasingly comfortable watching sports online. Nielsen’s numbers indicate that almost 90% of U.S. soccer fans are comfortable watching matches via streaming, which is good news for Apple TV+. That service signed a 10-year deal to stream every Major League Soccer game starting in 2023.

But the real cash cow of the sports streaming world has been — and will continue to be — pro football. The Prime Video- “TNF” experiment has seen mixed results from a technical standpoint, but, from a ratings’ perspective, it’s been a rousing success. The first three “TNF” games of the 2022 season attracted significantly more viewers than each of the seven Thursday games from last year that aired only on the NFL Network.

This is the first year that Nielsen has incorporated a streamer into its national TV ratings measurement system, and Amazon has to be thrilled with the future implications of its numbers. The NFL’s broadcast deals with linear TV providers run until at least the 2032 season, so customers shouldn't expect all games to become streaming-only any time soon. But if the league feels ready to make that move in a decade, it will be because the numbers are showing audiences are ready to accept a streaming-only NFL.

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