Primetime network TV used to be the be-all and end-all of broadcasting relevance in the US. But Americans, especially younger viewers, have been watching less traditional TV for years. And the drop-off has only increased recently.
Primetime is usually considered to be from 8:00-11:00 PM locally, and this includes many major sports events. Major soccer games taking place outside the US often fall outside of this timeframe, however.
But in terms of both sports and standard programming, numbers have been down across all the major networks over the past decade.
CBS dropped from an average of 11.85 million viewers in 2012/13 to just 5.96 million this past season. During the same timeframe, FOX went from 7.02 to 4.45 million, NBC from 6.97 to 5.27 million, and ABC from 7.88 to 4.14 million.
Meanwhile, more than 25,600 people cut the cord every day in the first quarter of 2023. If that rate continues, it’ll be 9.3 million American households cutting the cord this year.
As younger viewers come of age, they are consistently eschewing traditional cable or satellite TV in favor of streaming. This generation of viewers is comfortable with watching on devices such as phones, tablets, computers or gaming consoles. And the taste for consuming content on demand makes it no surprise that being tethered to a cable box and TV isn’t standing the text of time.
The future of soccer & sports
The soccer and broader sports world has already largely embraced the shift from traditional primetime TV. Leagues such as Serie A, LaLiga, NWSL, and the Bundesliga have every match streaming in the US, with only select games airing on TV. The Premier League has several games every weekend available only via Peacock. And Major League Soccer has gone all-in, creating their own streaming subscription service, MLS Season Pass. And of the handful of MLS games still featured on linear TV, hardly any are in primetime.
The continued shift away from traditional TV bodes well for sports leagues who’ve already hitched their wagons to streaming. And with the future of America’s regional sports networks – which air nightly MLB, NBA and NHL games – in question, things are likely to swing even further in that direction.
It’s likely that not too far in the future, America’s traditional primetime sports could all find themselves exclusively on platforms such as ESPN+, or with their own dedicated streaming services. The days of flipping channels in the living room to find a game will soon be a thing of the past.
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