March Madness Lifts Cable’s Share of TV Viewing


NEW YORK—TV usage dropped by 3% in March compared to February and March Madness helped cable to gain a larger share of TV viewing but overall changes in TV usage were very similar to February, according to Nielsen’s The Gauge™ report for March 2024.

While usage fell to some extent across each of the primary viewing categories in March, the report showed that cable viewing from February to March drove a 0.7-point bump in share, resulting in 28.3% of TV for cable. The cable category was lifted in part by sports, which was up 43% in March, driven largely by college basketball viewership.

Nielsen also reported that games in the women's NCAA tournament had a more meaningful impact on viewership compared with previous years, with the Round 2 matchup between Iowa and West Virginia ranking as the No. 7 cable telecast in March with 4.9 million viewers on ESPN.

Also giving cable a boost this month was State of the Union coverage on cable news networks. The March 7 event drew 32.2 million viewers in total (14.1 million on cable networks), and six of this month's top 10 cable telecasts were related to it.

But viewed from a longer term perspective, year over year, the cable category saw a 10% decline in usage and it lost 2.8 share points.

The streaming category also exhibited minimal impact compared with last month, falling just 1% which resulted in a 38.5% share of TV (+0.8 percentage points) in March. YouTube ended the month with another record, accounting for 9.7% of total TV usage in March (+0.4 pt.) — the largest share for a streaming service to date in The Gauge. Meanwhile, Netflix climbed to 8.1% of TV (+0.3 pt.), boosted by three of this month's top streaming originals: Love is Blind, The Gentleman, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, which combined for nearly 15 million viewing minutes in the March interval.

Continuing a longer-term shift towards streaming, Nielsen reported that streaming viewership was up 12% this month versus one year ago, and the category has added 4.4 share points (vs. 34.1% in March 2023).

The broadcast category exhibited the largest decline across viewing categories in March, falling 6% vs. February to account for 22.5% of TV (-0.8 pt.). On a yearly basis, broadcast viewing has declined 4% and has lost 0.7 share point.

Despite having or tying for the smallest share of TV in The Gauge since the report's inception, the broadcast category has shown notable resilience over time. When the report debuted in May 2021, broadcast sat at 25.4% of TV, while cable and streaming accounted for 39.5% and 26.2% of TV, respectively.

Almost 36 months later, the broadcast category has lost just 2.9 share points compared with 11.2 points given up by cable, and the streaming category has gained over 12 points.

While the cable category has shown the largest decline over that time, the core businesses that make up the category may be shifting along with consumers. None of the now-reported FAST channel providers (PlutoTV, The Roku Channel and TubiTV) had yet exceeded the 1.0% reportability threshold at the time of the first report. Now those services combine for 3.7 share points, with a considerable portion of the titles being fueled by cable network content, the report found.