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Week In Review: Nielsen Says Streaming’s Not All That, Sinclair Wants To Make Streaming RSNs Happen

1. Nielsen Says Streaming’s Not All That

Despite all the chatter about how the entire known universe is giving up traditional pay TV and moving to linear, Nielsen, the industry’s favorite buzzkill, just came out with the news that yes, they’ve been measuring streaming views and no, just because you personally don’t know anyone who still watches linear, doesn’t mean no one else is.

In fact, according to their new measurement metric called, hipsterly enough, “The Gauge”, 64% of viewers’ time was spent on traditional cable and broadcast, 26% on streaming and 9% on gaming and “other.”

Why It Matters

Netflix, which Nielsen claims leads the streaming universe along with YouTube, unsurprisingly approved of these latest metrics–they had previously severely dissed Nielen’s earlier audio-recognition based streaming metrics, the ones that frequently contradicted Netflix’s own self-reported numbers. (And not in a good way.)

So there’s that.

Then there’s the actual methodology Nielsen is using for The Gauge, which measures around 14,000 households via a proprietary hardware device that looks at internet traffic as it passes through a designated family’s router. 

There’s also the fact that Nielsen says streaming is indeed growing. The current 26% number is up from 20% in 2020 and 14% in 2019. What’s more, Nielsen’s thinking that streaming numbers could go up as high as 33% by the end of 2021.

And here’s the rub: TV[R]EV spoke to a couple of other people who do the measurement thing and they said that while their streaming numbers are a bit higher than Nielsen’s, they’re still in that one-third-ish range, meaning that Nielsen isn’t all that far off and that we’re nowhere close to to a 50/50 split.

“How can that be, Alan?” you may ask. “I thought The Poors and The Olds were the only people watching pay TV these days!”

To which I’d respond that if you are someone who gets most of your information from Silicon Valley-focused media, you might well think this in the same way  you might frequently make reference to “the massive wave of cord cutting.”

But you would be wrong.

Yes, cord cutting is picking up, and yes, it looks like it might get closer to 4% of all pay TV subscribers this year.

That’s not a whole lot of people though.

There are still more than 70 million households that subscribe to some form of pay TV, whether that’s from an MVPD or a vMVPD. And while there is considerable crossover–people watching both linear and streaming, there has been no massive wave, but rather, a slow trickle.

That slow trickle will pick up some over the next five to ten years–especially once we see live news feeds from the likes of CNN and Fox and streaming RSN apps, and even without those, the steady shift to streaming is not going to stop.

But things move slowly in the television industry. Very, very, very slowly, And so we’re bound to be in this transition period for quite some time, with all the attendant issues and opportunities.

What You need To Do About It

If you thought there really was a “massive wave of cord cutting” then it’s time to expand your reading list.

If you’re one of the network groups that has a streaming service, remember that your transition plan is a long term one and that the availability of familiar news and sports brands on streaming will help you migrate audiences.

If you’re a streaming first provider, an ad-supported one in particular,  this is good news. Advertisers may not like Nielsen, but they do trust them, and you should find you’re getting higher CPMs.

If you’re an ACR vendor, definitely do some research into how The Gauge works, how accurate its person-based measurement is and where you might still have an opening  to either compete, cooperate or a little of both.

2. Sinclair Wants To Make Streaming RSNs Happen

Sinclair is allegedly looking to raise a bunch of money—$250 million to be exact, to launch the 21 RSNs it owns as streaming apps. This is on top of whatever money Ballys, which now co-owns the apps, is willing to contribute.

The idea is that by adding in gambling, Sinclair can get the price of the apps down to just $23/month and launch them in time for the 2022 season.

Why It Matters

RSNs, or regional sports networks, attract a team’s super fans, the people who want to see every single Celtics or Flyers or Dodgers game and only marginally care if ESPN has a really good match-up on that doesn’t concern their team. 

Which is not to say that they won’t watch the game on ESPN, just that it does not have the same draw as their home team’s games.

Getting RSNs off of cable has been tricky, as the various cable networks have paid ginormous pots of money for the privilege of airing them, and it’s assumed that many fans stick with cable solely to be able to watch said RSNs.

This is especially true in 2021 when Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV have not renewed their deals with Sinclair and the only vMVPD option fans have is the $85/month AT&T TV Now.

Which is why, in comparison, $23/month doesn’t seem like a whole lot of money, especially given that a pair of not-all-that-great seats at the actual arena comes with an extra zero at the end of its price tag.

The fan base for sports is changing–younger viewers don’t have time to watch a full two or three hour game anymore, not when they can catch highlights in real time–and it’s widely acknowledged that a move to streaming, which would allow for a whole host of digital only bells and whistles, might help to attract the younger fan base. 

The issue is the leagues (MLB, the NHL and the NBA) and whether they’re going to be okay with these apps, as their existence might mess with their current cable deals. 

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re one of the major sports leagues, you’d be very foolish not to give this deal your approval. You need those younger fans far more than you need those cable dollars and you can put things like t-commerce plays on the apps (“Click here to buy a logo coffee mug!”) to increase revenue even more.

If you’re the New York Yankees management, please allow YES to be part of the deal. Millions of Brooklyn Nets fans would be thrilled to be able to have a streaming YES app. Or at least one fan in New Jersey would.

If you’re an OEM or an MVPD and you’re thinking about putting some form of bundle together, these RSNs would make a nice addition (provided you make it an optional add-on) and sports fans are nothing if not loyal. Something to think about.

If you’re Sinclair, take a bow–the Ballys deal and launching the RSNs as apps are both smart moves that may help you to recoup your $9.6 billion investment.