What ‘Yellowstone’ and the NFL Can Teach TV About Amassing Audience 

Illustration of a boot with the Yellowstone brand and a spur that looks like a streaming symbol
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

Amidst these depressing times for traditional TV, with network owners shifting focus to streaming only to belatedly realize perhaps that wasn’t the right call combining with subscriber numbers falling every quarter, there remain a few bright spots highlighting how TV can still be a force in the modern landscape. 

It may seem counter to the current mood, but TV is still capable of drawing in an audience if certain conditions are met. 

The smash Paramount Network hit “Yellowstone” offers a case study for TV as it continues to draw series viewership records in season 5. The majority of episodes have seen between 800K and 2.5 million more live or same-day viewers than in the last, previously record-breaking, season, all taking place in an environment where fewer and fewer people have a TV subscription. 

There were 52.1 million TV subscribers in Q3 2022 across the services that report consistently each quarter. That’s a fall of 8.6 million subscribers from Q1 2016, making the ability of “Yellowstone” to grow an audience even more impressive. 

The windowing strategy for “Yellowstone” has played a key role in its success. Unlike almost every other scripted or unscripted show on TV, “Yellowstone” is not available to stream at a cut-rate price the day after airing on TV. Instead, the only ways to watch are either on TV, DVR, VOD, TV-authenticated app (TV Everywhere, which still garners significant view time per network executives) or by purchasing via an electronic sell-through vendor like Apple. 

Peacock, home to prior seasons of “Yellowstone” online, does not get season rights until several months after the season finale airs. It seems like common sense to say this but making a show only available on TV sees people watching TV for it. Given how the vast bulk of the TV world thought making next-day rights to shows available on streaming services for a fraction of the cost of a TV subscription wouldn’t devalue TV, perhaps it isn’t common sense after all. 

The NFL is another example of TV protecting its content and also provides a great case study in something that most networks think of as an unspoken rule. Many countries around the world, such as the United Kingdom, air holiday content on the actual holidays, where it garners some of the highest ratings of the year. 

In the United States, it is a very different story. Holiday specials for shows air from mid-November onward, with nothing original on TV on the actual holidays. The theory is that audiences won’t watch (even as there are extensive case studies from culturally similar regions showing the opposite). Enter the NFL. 

The Thanksgiving Day audience levels for 2022 all showed significant growth and represented greater than usual audiences than those seen for Sunday games. In other words, running highly demanded content unopposed yields great results. 

With networks effectively ceding the holidays to streaming services and the NFL — whilst in 2022 Christmas Day fell on a Sunday and had three televised games, Fox has the right in its new NFL deal for a Christmas game every year — it may be time to look at the audience and think the holiday-themed special of a show could actually perform really well if it ran on the holiday itself.