A New Report Confirms It: Your Kids Have Pretty Much Stopped Watching Linear TV

The MoffettNathanson report dropped this morning; this afternoon, Nickelodeon holds the first in-person upfront for ad buyers in nearly two years.
"SpongeBob SquarePants"
SpongeBob SquarePants
Courtesy of Nickelodeon

Kids are addicted to screens, but not the O.G. flat screen that’s still attached to mom and dad’s cable box. Time spent viewing kids’ programming on linear television collapsed by a massive 53 percent from 2019 to 2021, analysts at MoffettNathanson found in their “State of Linear Viewing (2021)” report published today. Following that gigantic decline in minutes consumed was non-event sports programming (down 23 percent), syndicated programming (down 22 percent), and movies (down 20 percent).

In terms of individual ratings losers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cartoon Network was the hardest hit with a 34 percent drop. Nickelodeon also got hammered, with a 23 percent decline.

Awkwardly, Nickelodeon will host its annual upfront event at 4 p.m. ET today in which it will attempt to impress and otherwise woo media buyers into purchasing commercial time on their programming schedules. Today’s Nickelodeon event is the first live, in-person upfront since The CW’s in May 2019.

“The broader adoption of streaming services, we assume, has driven this shift,” the report reads. In other words, MoffettNathanson isn’t saying kids stopped watching “Blue’s Clues & You!” so much as they stopped watching via a traditional cable bundle.

That means it’s not all doom-and-gloom for the Nickelodeons of the world. The brand is a major part of DTC service Paramount+, which sells advertising as part of its limited-commercials $4.99-per-month tier, as well as Paramount’s Pluto TV, which is completely ad-supported.

Cartoon Network is owned by WarnerMedia, so its primary streaming service is HBO Max. Library content is also available on Hulu.

IndieWire reached out to representatives for Cartoon Network for this story, but we did not immediately receive a response. One Nickelodeon source who spoke with IndieWire for this story on the condition of anonymity pointed to a slew of their Paramount+ originals hitting number one overall on the SVOD service as evidence of the group’s “all-in” streaming push. The number ones include “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years,” “The Paw Patrol Movie,” and “Star Trek: Prodigy.”

That’s all we got from Nick: those folks are a bit busy today with their Palladium Times Square presentation, which we’re told will be very focused on Paramount+.

Cartoon Network's "The Powerpuff Girls"
Cartoon Network’s “The Powerpuff Girls”Courtesy of Variety

Even the little ones’ parents are moving away from linear TV, just not at as an alarming rate. (Grandparents are a different story; more on that in a bit.)

“There has been a dramatic reduction in the consumption of original scripted cable network content as audiences move to SVOD for that fare,” the five analysts credited on MoffettNathanson’s linear-TV report wrote.

Pretty much the only genres working on linear television are live sports and news. The top 3 cable networks in terms of total minutes viewed were Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN, they found, but those three also had the largest declines since 2020 when they benefited from the presidential-election cycle. ESPN was fourth in terms of time viewed, and the only cable channel in the Top 20 to actually grow from 2020 to 2021 in that metric.

On broadcast television, unscripted and original programming each shed about one-quarter of their time viewed since before the pandemic. While news is down just 8 percent, it is live sports that save the day. Take Fox’s broadcast channel: A whopping 77 percent of time viewed on the Fox broadcast network is for live sports, MoffettNathanson found, a 28 percent increase from a decade ago. On cable, the biggest growth in absolute time viewed came from the NBA on TNT.

“By now, it should be clear that the future of linear consumption will be more sports and news,” the guys (they’re all guys) wrote. “Original scripted content in linear should now follow the Paramount model of airing across multiple distribution platforms.”

So the two youngest generations have pretty much given up on linear television — but what about grandma and grandpa? MoffettNathanson found that 68 percent of cable-TV’s total-day viewership in the final quarter of 2021 and 69 percent of the same for broadcast came from viewers aged 50 or older. Respectively, just 6 percent and 5 percent of that viewership came from those aged 17 or younger.

“Older viewers may be cutting the cord, but younger folks are increasingly asking the question, ‘What is a cord?,'” the analysts concluded.

We can answer that one. It’s the thing that charges the iPad you’re addicted to, kids.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.