On May 2, 2023 the Writers Guild of America went on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. On July 25, the actors followed when SAG-AFTRA declared its own strike.
While the writers’ strike has ended, the actors’ strike continues. The impact of both strikes was seen almost immediately in TV viewership, especially on the broadcast networks. With viewership data quickly available from many sources, such as Innovid, brands and agencies can track shifts in TV audiences almost in real time when impactful events, such as the strikes, occur. This is data that can play a large role on where advertisers choose to run their campaigns.
In an Innovid survey conducted in August, 72.8% of brand and agency professionals acknowledged that the writers’ and actors’ strikes would impact their advertising plans. Almost half of respondents (45.1%) said they planned to diversify their inventory and media channels. Another 16% said they would decrease their budgets.
On the surface, there appeared to be little immediate impact from the strikes, but a deeper dive into the data shows that repercussions on TV advertising and viewership was brewing — which may have ultimately played a role in the producers being amenable to negotiate.
Inscape data identified the late night talk shows, “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” and “Jimmy Kimmel,” as the canaries in the coal mine. Because these late night shows are produced daily and not with longer lead times like prime time TV series, these programs felt the impact of the strike first and almost immediately.
The Inscape data shows that in the immediate wake of the strike, there was an accelerated decline in viewership of late night fringe viewing, which includes the shows hosted by Colbert, Fallon, and Kimmel. After moderate growth in January and slight declines in February, March, and April, viewership in the late night fringe period fell off a cliff in the ensuing months, according to Inscape:
- May: -24.4%
- June: -27.1%
- July: -13.2%
- August: -9.5%
Where are these viewers going? The case can be made that viewers are moving to streamers, such as Hulu, Netflix, and Roku, which are less dependent than linear networks on new shows that are being disrupted by the strike. Instead, the streamers (which, of course, do produce new programming) are still more likely to rely on catalogs of already produced films and TV series.
In the second quarter of the year, as the strike was starting, streamers were gaining subscribers:
- Netflix: 238.4 million, up 5.9 million in Q2 over Q1
- Hulu: 48.2 million paying subscribers, up 200,000 in Q2 over Q1
- Roku: 73.5 million subscribers, up 1.9 million in Q2 over Q1
Ad dollars follow eyeballs. As viewership shifts, it’s anticipated that advertising dollars will also move. Overall, in 2023, advertising spend globally is anticipated to increase 5.2%, according to Magna.
But many elements of TV will not share in this growth. Magna sees national network TV in the U.S. dropping by 7.7% this year. Local broadcast TV will see advertising revenue drop even more, 22.4%. Notably, AVOD and connected TV (CTV) will increase by 7.2%, a reflection in part of the continued subscriber growth of streaming services.
The almost immediate availability of viewership data from Innovid, Inscape, and elsewhere shows that the capability to shift ad dollars almost in real time exists now more than ever before. To ensure they’re generating maximum impact from their budgets, advertisers should stay on top of measurement insights, cut by publishers, to monitor where consumers are engaging most — especially during volatile periods, such as the Hollywood strikes.