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The pandemic lockdown resulted in a dramatic and immediate increase in TV viewership. As viewership increased and marketers recognized the linear relationship of being forced to stay home and watch more TV, inventory became tighter.
But what can we learn from this past year about linear TV viewership, and what can we expect going forward?
First, linear TV’s decline continues unabated and is unlikely to stop anytime soon.
When we compare the first 26 weeks of the year for the past three years, there is a precipitous decline in viewership. According to Nielsen data, the beginning of the year represented a high point (and progressively lower year-over-year) with the exception of the 2020 lockdown, and viewership gradually declined as the year progressed. Next year will likely continue this decline.
Second, the viewership bump from the pandemic lockdown was not as long-lasting as the lockdown itself.
Around week 10 (early to mid-March) 2020, the U.S. enacted rolling lockdown measures. This led to a dramatic increase in viewership, surpassing 2019’s levels, but this lasted only six weeks before dropping below 2019 levels again.
Linear TV viewership in the first half of 2020 quickly returned to the level of decline seen in 2019, which further accelerated in 2021. Despite the pandemic lockdown not easing well into 2021, only four weeks of viewership during the height of the 2020 pandemic lockdown surpassed week-one levels (pre-pandemic). Barely a month later, Nielsen found viewership dropped past week-one levels, and by mid-summer, the rate of decline returned