By Peter Gleason

What with all the talk about young people cutting the cable cord, you might think that streaming services are ringing up big revenues and profits.

But one element of traditional TV still pulls in vast crowds of watchers:


Sports programming is the main driver of viewership now, and it has slowed the cord-cutting trend.

That partly explains the large amount of ad spending that still goes to TV.

Factor in what was spent outside prime time and the television industry as a whole is expected to rake in about $67.2 billion in ad revenue for 2019, down slightly from $68.2 billion last year, according to the research firm Zenith.

TV advertising appears to have peaked in 2017, at $68.4 billion. That year — no coincidence — internet advertising revenue surpassed that of TV for the first time, with $75.2 billion in sales.

Sports has become the cornerstone to television programming, and the tech giants are well aware of its role as a defensive wall against online disruption.

Amazon, Facebook and Google have yet to broker significant exclusive-rights deals with major sports leagues because, for now, they can’t get more than a few hundred thousand people to watch something at the same time.

Yes, the National Football League sold “Thursday Night Football” streaming rights to Amazon, but the games are also shown by Fox. The NFL relies on the large audiences the networks can deliver, and it is unlikely to trade that for Silicon Valley money and weaker ratings.

That puts a different spin on the upfronts. Despite the song and dance around police procedurals, soaps and sitcoms, the narratives provided by the Golden State Warriors or the New England Patriots are most likely what have kept TV front and center.

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