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Tops of 2023: TV

4 minute read | December 2023

It’s an exciting time in the television business, especially for content-hungry viewers who spend about 33 hours each week with TV in the U.S. While the writers’ strike constrained the stream of new content for the year, the growing abundance of programs and movies across linear and streaming channels continues to engage TV audiences for about half of their daily time with media.

Importantly, TV engagement has normalized following the heights reported during the pandemic, and the explosion of choice is no longer inspiring increases in TV usage. On average, the typical adult spends more than 10 hours each day with media, with about half dedicated to TV content. 

In terms of viewer appeal, there’s no mistaking the ongoing shift to streaming, which now offers everything from sports to game shows to big-budget movies with A-list celebrities. Streaming platforms have also broadened to offer something for everyone: ad-free subscriptions, ad-supported subscriptions and a growing abundance of scheduled programming within the growing, free ad-supported television (FAST) segment. For context, the three FAST services that are independently reported in The Gauge accounted for 3.2% of total TV use in November 2023.

Given the abundance of streamable content, much of which can be watched on demand, streaming has grown to account for a sizable portion of total TV usage, hitting a high-water mark of 38.7% in July 20231. Traditional, scheduled television programming, however, remains a dominant component of the media mix, with broadcast and cable accounting for more than 50% of TV usage throughout the year (53.2% in November). In aggregate, broadcast and cable programming in 2023 through Nov. 30 attracted an audience of 185.1 billion (61.2 billion for broadcast; 123.9 billion for cable).

With the lines between traditional and streaming growing increasingly blurry, it seems overly fitting that the biggest streaming story of the year involved a program that first ran on cable between 2011 and 2019 before landing on Peacock and Netflix. While the writers’ strike had an impact on new content this year, the popularity of Suits was undeniable, landing in the top spot of Nielsen’s top 10 list for a record 12 straight weeks—longer than Netflix originals Ozark (11 weeks), You (8 weeks) and Stranger Things (8 weeks). During its 12-week run at the top, audiences watched more than 36.8 billion minutes of the legal dramedy.

While Suits was the clear lock for the most-watched program on streaming platforms, Outer Banks, The Night Agent and Ginny & Georgia were the top originals when calculated by weekly viewing minutes. And with more than 2.8 billion viewing minutes at the start of the year, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery took the top spot on the movie list.

On broadcast channels, the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade was the most-watched single telecast, bolstered by the larger audiences that gather around the TV during the late November holiday. The parade also attracted more than twice the audience of the average viewership for NCIS, the year’s most-watched broadcast series.

On cable channels, news, the start of the 2024 election cycle captured the biggest audience, with the Aug. 23, 2023, Republican debate. This points to a trend we’re likely to continue to see next year as we approach the 2024 election. The debate just edged out the season 5 premier of the Kevin Costner-led Yellowstone for the top spot. In stark contrast to the news-driven top cable telecasts, the Hallmark Channel’s When Calls the Heart was the favorite cable series of the year, with an average audience of just over 1.7 million viewers.

While the world of TV has evolved significantly over the past few years amid the rise of CTV adoption and the access to streaming it facilitates, the television remains a mainstay with audiences, capturing more time with media than any other device. Knowing which programs appeal to audiences remains fundamental for creators and publishers, while viewer engagement remains critical for advertisers and agencies looking to reach audiences where they spend their TV time. Quality audience data provides the critical insight the industry needs, regardless of how diverse and expansive the content universe becomes.

To learn more audience and programming insights critical for the 2024 Upfronts/NewFronts planning season, read our full guide.


1Nielsen’s The Gauge

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