TV Usage Hits 4-Year High in January, Boosted by NFL Playoffs, Nielsen Says

Monthly TV usage hit a four-year high in January 2024, according to Nielsen, with three of the top 10 days (Jan. 1, 14 and 28) reaching the most viewing since the firm began producing its The Gauge report in May 2021.

Overall TV viewership climbed 3.7% during the month — 1.4% higher than last year’s level at the same time — which Nielsen attributed to chilly weather coupled with excitement for the NFL playoffs.

“While football is always a heavy driver of TV viewing, colder-than-usual weather played a role in TV viewing in markets that aren’t as seasonally cool, including Tulsa and Portland, where TV viewing increased 10% and 7%, respectively,” the firm noted. “And in Tampa, the cooler temps and the Buccaneers’ playoff run combined to bolster TV viewing by 14% on a year-over-year basis.”

Overall, streaming usage was up 4.1% over December 2023 to account for 36% of TV usage. Peacock led platforms from a growth perspective with a 29% monthly increase, pushing its share to a platform-best 1.6% of TV.

Elsewhere, YouTube notched its 12th consecutive month as having the largest share among streaming services, with 8.6% of TV usage. Netflix gained 0.2 share points to end the month at 7.9% of TV — its highest since August 2023 — and the Roku Channel usage increased 10% to bump its share back to 1.1% of total TV.

Jan. 13 was a record day for streaming volume with a total of 40.8 billion viewing minutes, which was driven in part by the almost 3.9 billion viewing minutes of the AFC Wildcard game between the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs exclusively on Peacock. In total, January 2024 included nine of the top 10 days with the highest streaming volumes ever recorded by Nielsen, with New Year’s Eve sneaking in at No. 9.

Streaming originals also had a revival in January, with Netflix’s “Fool Me Once” being the first original to top the streaming charts with 6.5 billion viewing minutes for the month — the first to do since “Queen Charlotte – A Bridgerton Story” in May 2023. “Bluey” on Disney+ and “Reacher” on Prime Video were close behind, with 5.5 billion minutes and 4.3 billion minutes, respectively.

In addition to colder weather and the NFL, January saw the beginning of new drama programming following the resolution of the Hollywood strikes, which accounted for a 20% increase in viewing on broadcast networks, led by NBC’s “Chicago” franchise (“Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med” and “Chicago P.D.”). Combined with a 36% rise in sports viewing, broadcast was able to grow its share of TV by 0.7 share points to end the month at 24.2% of TV.

Cable climbed 2.7% in January, though the rise in total TV usage resulted in a 0.3 share point loss to land at 27.9%. Seasonality played a role as viewers transitioned away from holiday-themed movies, which led to a decrease of more than 19% in feature film viewership.

News viewing accounted for 19% of overall cable usage, with the Iowa Town Hall on Fox News Channel becoming the only non-sports program to land in the top 10 cable broadcasts excluding sports commentary. Football games dominated the most-watched programs on cable, including the College Football Playoff game between Michigan and Alabama on New Year’s Day, which took the top spot with 26.1 million viewers.

“February, in addition to including viewership for the Super Bowl, will mark the formal start of an abbreviated broadcast TV season, which could offset some of the viewing declines that typically follow the end of the NFL season,” Nielsen’s report concluded. “With spring not yet on the horizon, the continued arrival of new content across traditional and streaming channels will likely keep audiences engaged until warmer weather arrives.”

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