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People used to watch their favorite shows almost exclusively on cable. With the rise of streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu, the number of traditional pay TV subscribers is quickly dwindling.
From as high as 100.5 million in 2013, only 47.8 million households in the United States will be watching cable and satellite TV by the end of 2027, based on statistics. The US just happens to host the largest pay TV market in the world.
Why are people ditching their cable TV subscriptions to over-the-top video (OTT) services? These cord-cutting statistics might offer some answers.
Essential Cord-Cutting Statistics
Before we get started, here’s a quick look at today’s top cord-cutting facts:
- Around 31.2 million subscribers in the US cut the cable TV cord between 2012 and 2020
- An estimated 5.2 million Americans indicated that they wanted to cut the cord in 2021
- Almost five million Americans canceled their pay TV subscriptions in 2022
- Pay TV penetration in the US will be lower than 50% by the end of 2023
- Among US adults, the least decline in cable and satellite TV subscriptions is with those aged 65 and older
- Cost is the deciding factor for 77% of those over the age of 50 in making the switch from pay TV to streaming alternatives
- Pay TV revenue fell from $186 billion in 2019 to $161 billion in 2021
- Global streaming revenue is expected to surpass the nine-billion-dollar mark in 2023
How Many Households Still Have Cable?
Between the mounting costs of pay TV and the vast selection of streaming content, more and more people are cutting the cord.
In 2022, there were 65.1 million pay TV households in the US, around half compared to less than ten years before. Industry experts believe that this number will continue to shrink.
How did things turn sour for cable companies?
We will try to answer this question in four ways using different cord cutting stats. The first part will be about the development of the cord cutting revolution, followed by some cord cutting demographics. Next, we will look more closely at the cable industry and streaming platforms.
Cord Cutting Revolution StatisticsIt’s hard to believe, but Netflix came out in 1997. It started by offering a DVD-by-mail service and did not stream content until 2007.
Now, it produces original shows and has a library of over six to eight thousand different titles, depending on the territory. Its net worth has also grown shy of $100 billion, an eye-watering figure.
Along the way, Netflix and other platforms like it displaced cable providers as the primary source of TV entertainment. Here’s how the cord cutting revolution looks:
1. Around 31.2 million subscribers in the US cut the cable TV cord between 2012 and 2020
Between 2012 and 2020, an estimated 31.2 million households joined the cord-cutting revolution. The biggest loss for cable providers happened during the first full year of the pandemic when a record 6.6 million people canceled their cable TV subscriptions.
Government-mandated lockdowns shut down all popular sporting events, and sports viewership is among the biggest sources of income for pay TV. Many people lost interest in cable without them and turned to stream alternatives instead.
2. An estimated 5.2 million Americans indicated that they wanted to cut the cord in 2021
Streaming platforms showed no signs of slowing down, carving bigger and bigger portions of the market with each passing year. Following the worst loss for pay TV at the pandemic’s start, 5.2 million households said they wanted to cancel their cable subscriptions by the end of 2021. Around 4.7 million of them went ahead as planned.
Major sporting attractions like American football, professional baseball, and basketball were back on TV. However, many who tried streaming video content during the absence of live sports were unwilling to shift back.
3. Almost five million Americans canceled their pay TV subscriptions in 2022
In 2022, another 4.9 million US households showed interest in cutting the cord. This number is lower than in 2021, and the year-on-year change might continue to drop over the next few years as the population of cord cutters grows larger.
Whether this is enough to prevent the demise of pay TV remains to be seen.
4. Pay TV penetration in the US will be lower than 50% by the end of 2023
According to Insider Intelligence, pay TV lost 50 million adult viewers from 25.5 million households between 2016 and 2021. By the end of 2023, less than half (49.5%) of all homes in the US will be tuned in to traditional pay TV.
One development that cable providers need to watch out for is that streamers are starting to make a play for the rights to broadcast live sports too. If they manage to strike deals with the likes of the NFL, MLB, and Formula One, it might be game over sooner for many of today’s already floundering cable companies.
Cord Cutting Demographic Statistics
We have looked at cord cutters as one. However, there are key differences among the demographics, and these variations might significantly impact the future of both the streaming and pay TV industries.
With this in mind, let’s look at the stats for the viewers’ age groups and other key categories.
5. Among US adults, the least decline in cable and satellite TV subscriptions is with those aged 65 and older
(Pew Research Center)
Pay TV subscriptions have been declining across the board, dropping from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021. However, baby boomers have shown the most resilience against the seemingly inevitable change in the TV landscape.
Here’s a rundown of the change in viewing habits within the same time across the age spectrum:
- About a third of US adults aged 18 to 29 were watching their shows using cable or satellite in 2021. This is down from 65% in 2015.
- Around 73% of the 30 to 49 age group used to get TV through satellite or cable in 2015. In 2021, this number dropped to 46%.
- In the 50 to 64 age group, the decline in cable TV subscriptions is 14 percentage points (from 80% to 66%).
- The change in viewing habits within the same period for those aged 65 and older resulted in a five-point decline in pay TV subscriptions. Statistically, this is an insignificant difference.
6. Cost is the deciding factor for 77% of those over 50 in making the switch from pay TV to streaming alternatives
According to Statista, a pay TV subscription will most likely set you back no less than $100 every month. Only 7.8% of the survey participants spent less on cable or satellite TV plans.
This price tag proved too steep for US adults, and 77% cut the cord because of it. This sentiment is shared by 72% of adults aged 30 to 49 and 57% of the 18 to 29 age group. It’s understandable since a basic streaming plan with no internet usually costs $36, while a premium package usually costs no more than $58.
7. Cord cutters are most likely households with a combined income of less than $50k
We’ve established that the price of cable services is the biggest force driving the cord cutting revolution. Is there a “threshold income” for discontinuing cable TV subscriptions?
Civic Science offers an answer in a study saying that a cord-cutting household will likely have an income of less than $50k. The same research also indicates that people who live in the suburbs have a lower chance of being cord cutters.
Cable Industry Statistics
Pay TV has long been the primary source of news and entertainment for people worldwide. However, it is fighting an uphill battle (and losing ground fast) in digitally developed markets, especially in North America and Europe.
Despite tremendous pressure from OTT video content and other technological advancements, global pay TV revenue peaked in 2016. It is still thriving in some parts of the world, especially those where the digital markets are not yet mature enough.
Even in emerging markets like Latin America, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific, some people are still receptive to cable and satellite TV services.
However, pay TV would eventually outlive its usefulness in the face of more flexible video content options. The writing is on the wall, as these cable TV industry statistics suggest:
8. Pay TV revenue fell from $186 billion in 2019 to $161 billion in 2021
During its heyday in 2016, pay TV global revenue was estimated at a jaw-dropping $201 billion. This figure went down to $186 billion over the next three years. It was still quite respectable at this point, but the continued decline has been alarming for cable providers.
The industry shrunk further by tens of billions of dollars in two years, with its estimated global revenue sitting at $161 billion in 2021. Experts’ projections are not encouraging, as they see nothing within the horizon that would shake things up and tip the scales back in favor of cable providers.
9. Global revenue for the cable and satellite industry will fall to roughly $131 billion by 2027
Barring some minor miracle, pay TV’s global revenue will continue to drop until it reaches $131 billion in 2027. That is a decline of $30 billion within six years. Things will be much worse for the North American market, where revenue is expected to shrink by $48 billion by the same time.
Some of the pay TV providers are trying to stem the tide by considering adding elements similar to those you get from streaming services. This includes the appearance of recommendations and the presence of an operator home screen. Other cable companies have penetrated the broadband market and are bundling pay TV with internet services.
10. Pay TV revenues will drop in 77 out of 138 countries from 2020 to 2026
(Research and Markets)
From as high as $201 billion in 2016, global pay TV revenue for 138 countries will fall to $143 by 2026. The US will account for 40% of the decline, which would be much better than its performance in 2015 (52%).
Between 2020 and 2026, the pay TV industry will take a hit in 77 out of the total 138 countries. Again, the drop would be most pronounced in the US, where cable and satellite TV providers will lose $23 billion in revenue.
Streaming Services Statistics
When talking about streaming services, most people automatically think of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, or HBO Max. In reality, there are so many more of them now. A total of 377 independent OTT providers operate in the US alone. That is more than twice their number in 2014.
The US market might be approaching its saturation point, especially for those who provide premium services. Nevertheless, these streamers have the resources to develop new offerings or better business models. They are in a great position to get more subscribers in the future while retaining the ones they already have.
In short, the future looks bright for the streaming industry. How bright, exactly? Let’s look at the numbers:
11. Revenue growth during the first year of the pandemic was 34.6%
In 2018, the percentage of revenue growth for the streaming industry was 24.3%. It rose over the next two years and peaked at 34.6% in 2020. This was when the pandemic was at its worst, and people were forced indoors.
The world plodded slowly towards some semblance of normalcy. Along with the slow progress, revenue growth for streamers normalized too. The streaming industry is looking forward to an 18%-increase in earnings by the end of 2023.
12. Global streaming revenue is expected to surpass the nine-billion-dollar mark in 2023
In 2017, the global streaming market earned a total of $27.68 billion. Things continued to improve from there, and the industry will most likely make $95.35 billion by the end of 2023.
The US market will account for a big part of its revenue in 2023 — $39.25 billion, to be exact. Come 2027, streamers all over the world will generate total revenue of $137 billion.
These numbers do not include the earnings from ad-supported services, pay-per-view, and offerings that require access to pay TV, such as HBO Go.
13. Netflix still has a firm grip on the market, with 231 million subscribers
Netflix has been facing tougher competition in the past couple of years. However, Apple TV+, HBO Max, and other streaming platforms still have much ground to cover before they come close to unseating the current market leader.
The biggest threat to Netflix’s reign is still Amazon Prime Video. The two streaming giants have been going at it since the pandemic started. Amazon Prime Video’s base of subscribers is over 200 million also. One advantage over other streamers is that it can offer fast and free shipping, discounts, and other benefits in its packages.
These statistics show that streaming platforms have many advantages over pay TV, including cheaper costs and more extensive content libraries. You might be missing out if you haven’t made the switch yet. Conversely, you can’t dismiss the cable and satellite industry just yet.
Whether you’re a fan of old-school cable TV or a video streaming addict, it helps to look behind the scenes at your primary source of entertainment. Knowing these things will help you make the right choices or at least gain a better appreciation for what you’re watching.
Frequently Asked Questions
When did cord cutting start gaining traction?
Cord cutting became popular between the years 2007 and 2008. During this time, Netflix launched its streaming vertical, and Amazon Unbox rebranded to the more successful Amazon Video. Another reason behind the spike in cord cutting is the economic crisis in 2008 which forced many Americans to streamline their expenses.
What are the possible disadvantages of cord cutting?
Ditching your cable TV in favor of streaming services is generally more cost-effective. However, big households that subscribe to several different providers might end up spending more. Another thing that you need to consider is that you might have to use VPN if you want to unlock more content on some streaming platforms.
Which are the top cable internet providers in the US?
Xfinity, which Comcast Corporation owns, is one of the most popular TV and internet service providers in the US, with download speeds of up to 1,200 Mbps. Other notable players in the industry are Spectrum, Mediacom, and Cox.