December 28, 2019 1:46 pm

Streaming Wars: Cable ratings prove pay TV is DOA in 2020

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Credit: Pixabay

To visualize 2019’s cable ratings, picture the futuristic (streaming) war scenes from The Terminator. It’s a bleak, dark battleground, where tech-giants crush skulls underfoot. However, instead of innocent refugees, these skulls are from cable channel executives unable to stop the inevitable.

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The scale of the problem

If only a handful of networks dropped in viewership, then it would be premature to say pay TV will be DOA (Dead On Arrival) in 2020. However, when only eight of 39 networks report viewership increases in 2019, it’s straight scorched-earth apocalypse time for cable TV.


The decline is an epidemic but it’s the rate of that decline that startles. At the percentages shown channels like AMC and Adult Swim will have around half a million viewers by the end of 2020. It could be less than 200K if we only considering the 18-49 age demographic.

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The top 10 in viewership

  1. Fox News, 2.57 million viewers, +1% increase over 2018
  2. MSNBC, 1.8 million, -3% decrease
  3. ESPN, 1.78m, -3%
  4. HGTV, 1.32m, -10%
  5. USA Network, 1.26m, -18%
  6. Hallmark, 1.25m, +5%
  7. History, 1.21m, -3%
  8. TLC, 1.21m, +13%
  9. TBS, 1.18m, -17%
  10. Discovery, 1.16m, -3%

The biggest declines

  1. Disney Channel, 0.53m, -30%
  2. Disney Jr., 0.42m, -25%
  3. Nick at Nite, 0.56m, -24%
  4. Adult Swim, 0.7m, -23%
  5. AMC, 0.73m, -22%
  6. FX, 0.7m, -21%
  7. USA Network, 1.26m, -18%
  8. OWN, 0.39m, -18%
  9. TBS, 1.18m, -17%
  10. VH1, 0.55m, -15%
  11. TNT, 1.12m, -15%
  12. Nick Jr., 0.41m, -14%
  13. BET, 0.37, -13%
  14. HGTV, 1.32m, -10%
  15. Animal Planet, 0.47m, -10%

The decline in Disney viewership is understandable considering the phenomenal growth of Disney+. The service is estimated to have 25 million subscribers already. It is the decline in other channels that can be attributed to a lack of viewer interest — or to better content available elsewhere.

Considering the channels increasing in viewership, and those which are decreasing, there’s a clear, older demographic locked into pay TV. The question is, how long will that prop up those services?


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The end is nigh

It’s impossible to see a way back for the TV we all grew up with. Due in large part to the investments made by tech giants, the Streaming Wars have killed off pay TV, and these cable ratings are proof. It is likely 2020 will be the last year for many of these listed channels, or they’ll need to adapt in a big way to stay afloat. Regardless, the older audience won’t be able to prop it up for long once major sports inevitably migrate to streaming services.

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