The ongoing slowdown of streaming video adoption, though widely reported, isn't as simple as all that. While some high-profile services -- most notably Netflix (NFLX -1.44%) -- have suffered subscriber losses, others, including Disney (DIS -1.19%), have added new viewers at a breakneck pace. The results across the most popular services have been uneven at best, suggesting that we've entered a new era of streaming video, the winners of which have yet to be decided.
One thing's for sure -- we do know who will be the ultimate loser. In fact, the evidence is stacking up, and it's been staring us right in the face for some time now.
Streaming reaches a milestone
During the month of July, streaming video accounted for the largest share of television viewing, topping cable TV, according to Nielsen. It's worth noting that while streaming has surpassed the stats of broadcast TV several times, this is the first time its audience has outpaced cable TV viewing.
Streaming video captured a total of 34.8% of television viewing in the U.S. last month, ahead of 34.4% for cable and up 22.6% year over year. Broadcast television dropped to a new low, accounting for 21.6% of volume, down nearly 10% from roughly 23.8% in the prior-year period.
The driving factor
So what's fueling the increasing adoption of streaming video? In a word: content. Netflix was able to increase its share to 8% of overall viewing on the back of 18 billion minutes of Stranger Things and another 11 billion minutes combined of Virgin River and The Umbrella Academy. Movies also helped drive the performance, with The Gray Man and The Sea Beast combined to add another 5 billion minutes.
It wasn't just Netflix that gained share. Hulu also reached new heights, with a 3.6% share of total viewing, with a combined 3 billion minutes spent watching Only Murders in the Building and The Bear. Amazon's (AMZN -4.03%) Prime Video got in on the action with a 3% share, driven by The Terminal List and additional episodes of its hit series The Boys, with the pair attracting 8 billion minutes.
Perhaps most importantly, total television viewing during July was nearly identical to June, which suggests that all other things being equal, Americans are increasing their streaming video viewing at the expense of other options.
A common misconception
Streaming video reached new heights and greater adoption than ever before during the pandemic, with the subsequent slowdown in new subscribers suggesting the onset of "streaming fatigue." Yet, the evidence shows that just isn't the case.
The data indicates that audiences watched an average of 190.9 billion minutes of streaming video per week last month, sailing past the 169.9 minutes per week during the pandemic-related lockdowns of April 2020. In fact, July 2022 marked the "highest-volume streaming weeks on record," according to Nielsen.
The secular decline of cable continues
The decline in the popularity of cable continues, with cord-cutting reaching epic proportions. The major pay-tv providers lost roughly 4.7 million subscribers in 2021, roughly matching their record losses from 2020, according to Leichtman Research Group.
There's little question that those abandoning cable are migrating to streaming. So who stands to benefit the most?
The Big Five
Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon, and Warner Bros. Discovery's (WBD 0.28%) HBO Max represent the "Big Five" streaming services, according to Hub Entertainment Research. Nearly half of all TV viewers subscribe to at least three or more of the Big Five, up 10% year over year and nearly double the level from 2020.
Research suggests that the number will continue to grow. More than 75% of respondents say they plan to add new streaming video services over the coming six months, according to Hub. Even more telling? More than three-quarters of those say they plan to keep their existing services, merely adding to the growing size of their streaming bundle.
A quick look at recent subscriber trends could help identify which streaming stocks might be deserving of further research.
During the first six months of this year, Netflix shed 1.2 million subscribers, fueled by price increases and the suspension of its service in Russia. This led to the popular misconception that all the low-hanging fruit had been picked from the streaming tree, but that's obviously not the case.
At the same time, however, the House of Mouse added 14.4 million Disney+ subscribers, while Hulu added 3.4 million, bringing Disney's total count to 221 million subscriptions across its streaming offerings. This was the largest jump in viewer count among leading providers. Warner Bros. Discovery added 1.7 million new subs, bringing its total to 92.1 million. Amazon rarely provides updates on its subscriber numbers, but in April 2021, it said that 175 million Prime members had streamed programming over the preceding year, with viewing hours up 70% year over year.
Given the continuing adoption of streaming video, the Big Five provides a good starting place for further research for investors looking to benefit from the streaming revolution. Of the five -- if I was forced to pick just one -- Disney's large and growing treasure trove of content and intellectual property, combined with the media company's expertise in cross-marketing and strong subscriber gains, make it an odds-on favorite to be among the clear streaming winners going forward.