Television has been an important part of our culture since
it first went mainstream in the 1950s and 1960s. It made it possible for people
to watch shows and movies without having to pay to see them in the theaters,
and it gave birth to television news, which is still one of the most relied upon news sources to
However, no matter how entrenched something is in society,
it is not immune to disruption from new technologies, and that’s exactly what’s
happening to the world of cable TV.
For years, cable companies made billions offering
consumers access to cable TV. This meant more channels and better content and
left with no other option, many of us signed right up. But now, cable TV is
getting prohibitively expensive, and there are many other options out there for
consuming content, causing people to “cut the cord” and turn their backs on
cable companies forever.
This trend has led many to wonder if cable TV is dead.
It’s a fair question; cable companies have been
hemorrhaging customers for the past decade or so. But it’s tough to say if this
means it’s really dead.
For example, cable TV use is growing in other parts of the
world, and for the moment, cable TV still has access to sports. Yet many other
factors indicate the days of cable TV are indeed numbered. We’re going to dig
into some of the key statistics to discuss if we are witnessing the end of an
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What is Cord-Cutting?
Simply put, cord-cutting is the process of canceling your pay cable TV subscription. This usually also includes stopping your home phone service as well, choosing instead to rely on our mobile phone. However, to be considered a real cord cutter, you need to ditch cable.
Typically, when people “cut the cord,” they do one of two
- Revert to antennae TV. We tend to forget
that TV was and has always been free. However, there are only a few free
stations to choose from, which is why we all started paying for cable in the
first place. But if the basic, local channels are enough for you, then you can
cancel cable and get an antenna to receive television for free. This is known
as Over the Air (OT) broadcast.
- Switch to streaming services. To be able
to maintain a decent level of variety when it comes to entertainment and also
save on cable TV costs, many people are opting for Over the Top (OTT)
broadcast, which means they get all their television through the internet.
Choices include Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, etc., as well as YouTube TV.
Over the Top broadcast is much more popular than switching
to just basic cable, which means we cord cut not because we want to watch less
TV but because we want to have a better experience when we’re doing it.
You’ve seen some of the more shocking statistics about cord-cutting and pay cable TV subscriptions, but to really show you how this industry is changing, consider the following:
Percent of Young Americans Have Already Cut the Cord
This study by West Monroe surveyed 5,000 Americans and found
that 59 percent of them had already cut the cord. However, the research group
was quick to point out these numbers are not representative of the entire
country but rather its younger generations.
But this just makes the handwriting on the wall even
larger since it means the next group of cable consumers, upon which the
industry depends for growth, are not interested in paying for cable. And to
make matters worse, the study also found that 29 percent of those who hadn’t
cut the cord already are thinking about doing so. More bad news for the cable
Will Be More than 55 Million Cord Cutters By 2022
This number just keeps getting bigger and bigger. As we
know, it reached 33 million in 2019, and the industry will lose almost the same
amount of customers in the next three years, according to eMarketer.
Overall, though, people are dropping cable at a slower
rate than they were a few years back, but we shouldn’t take this as a sign that
people are staying loyal to cable. Instead, it’s a reflection on the
availability of alternatives.
Netflix has grown tremendously in the past few years, as
has Amazon Prime, Hulu YouTube TV, and Apple TV. Over the next few years, consumers will have
even more options, but there’s no way to know if that will kill cable. Perhaps
having to subscribe to ten different platforms to watch TV will drive people
back to cable, or maybe nothing will convince people to go back to cable. Only
time will tell.
35 Million Americans Have Never Had Cable TV
Cable TV companies are clearly losing customers at a
steady rate. But what’s interesting is that there is a growing segment of the
US population that has never had cable. Of course, there have always been
resisters, but that some 35 million Americans have never paid for cable
should be troubling to those working in the industry.
This number is expected to grow to about 40 million in the
next few years, which means around 90 million Americans will be using a cordless
TV. This does not leave the industry with a lot of room to grow, which could
mean we’re at the beginning of the end.
People Watch Netflix Than Cable and Satellite Combined
This is perhaps the most concerning statistic of them all
for those who are still rooting for cable. It’s one thing to lose subscribers
to Netflix and other streaming services, so long as you stay one step ahead of
them. However, this stat shows us that this is no longer the case. Netflix has officially surpassed both cable and satellite TV
in terms of viewers.
This might not come as a huge surprise – Netflix spends
billions of dollars a year to create content to attract new subscribers and
keep current ones happy – but it’s a bit shocking when we consider how ubiquitous
cable was as compared to Netflix just a few years ago.
Percent of People Have Some Sort of Streaming Service
Yet another bad sign for the cable industry is that a majority of people now have some type of streaming service.
Traditionally, this wasn’t always a problem, as streaming services only
provided a limited amount of content, and most of that content was usually
previously recorded. However, as more and more streaming services are getting
in on the live television game, and as they invest more to create their own
content, that so many people have a streaming service will continue to be a
problem for cable companies both big and small.
Cut the Cord
To understand this trend and to get a better idea as to whether or not it means the death of the cable industry, it’s important to consider why people become cord-cutters in the first place.
Below are the main reasons people cite for ditching their
cable subscriptions in favor of something else:
With 87 percent of people who cut the cord citing price as
their reason for doing so, this is far and away the top reason for ditching
cable. And for good reason. The average price of a cable TV bill grew 209% between
1995-2015, outpacing inflation by more than 150 percent, and prices have increased by 50 percent just from 2010 until the
All of this means that cable TV hasn’t been getting more
expensive because everything has been as well. Instead, it’s been getting more
expensive because the cable companies have been charging more and more, likely
because they saw us as a captive market from which they could extract more
As mentioned earlier, very few people, just 34 percent,
are happy with the value they receive from their pay-TV subscription, so it’s
no wonder so many people are jumping ship and looking for alternatives.
However, cable TV companies are smart. They have been working hard to keep prices from rising
further. This is likely an attempt to stop people from cutting the cord. Will
Streaming is Better
Another reason people cut the cord is that they want a
better television experience. Streaming allows you to watch what you want when
you want. All you need is an internet connection. You can also share accounts
with multiple users, which allows people to spread out costs and make
television more affordable. Furthermore, streaming services, especially those
with live TV options, allow users to record unlimited hours of their favorite
TV shows by making use of cloud storage. And to stream, all one needs is a
device with an internet connection, such as a phone, laptop, tablet, or
All of this beats cable, which limits you to the home and
to the TVs/boxes that are hooked up to cable. These limitations are becoming
too cumbersome for today’s digital natives, and this is a big reason why so
many people are cutting the cord.
Streaming Services are Investing in Content
As streaming services such as Netflix grew up, the biggest
complaint against them was related to their libraries. Because they’ve always
had to rely on licensing agreements and other contracts, it’s been a challenge
for streaming services to keep up with cable in terms of content. However, in
the last few years, Netflix has been investing heavily in content creation,
and they’ve been doing so with tremendous success. As a result, people are now
able to access the best content out there without needing cable, something that
was not true until just a few years ago. And as Netflix continues to develop
its original programming, it’s hard to see people switching back to cable just
to be able to watch one or two shows.
of Cable TV?
Now that we’ve had the chance to look at some of the stats about cord-cutting and also discuss some of the reasons why people make this decision, it’s time to ask if all this means cable TV is dead.
Below are some of the reasons why we are witnessing the
end of the cable TV era, as well as a few things for which the industry can be
At the moment, sports might be the only thing keeping
cable TV alive. People use cable mainly to watch live broadcasts, and sports
are one of the few things people still care about watching live.
However, cable’s dominance in the sports market may change
soon. All of the major sports leagues will see their television contracts expire in the next five to ten years,
and it’s expected that streaming services, such as Amazon and perhaps even
Facebook, will bid to try and get exclusive rights to these leagues. If this
happens, and all of a sudden you don’t need cable to watch the NBA or the NFL,
then we can almost certainly say goodbye to cable TV forever.
Preferences of Younger Generations
As we’ve mentioned already, people from younger generations are more likely to be cord-cutters. They’re used to doing things on the internet, and they are probably not going to have the same attachment to cable as people from older age brackets. And as more and more of the content people desire is available online, there’s only one conclusion to draw: death to cable TV.
Building on this last point, those who are still watching
cable are made up mostly of advertisers’ least-desired age brackets. This means
that while TV is still a good value for advertisers – they can reach a lot of
people for the money they spend – that value will diminish in years to come.
This is not good news for cable TV companies, because when advertisers stop
spending, stations suffer, and when stations suffer, they disappear, which
means cable TV has nothing to offer.
One interesting statistic is that 56 percent of people still watch cable TV because it’s
bundled with their broadband internet. Cable companies have long
been bundling services as a way to market them as less expensive, but as they
realize more and more that their core business is providing internet and not
cable, they have been using these bundles as a way to keep people paying for
However, with 5G internet service around the corner, it’s
possible people will be able to get fast internet from other sources, and when
cable companies see this, they may release people from these bundles to compete
and not lose their core business. This would mean cheaper internet for all
(yay!), but it would also mean no more cable.
There are some rather convincing reasons as to why cable
TV is dying if not already dead, but here are some reasons why it might not be
headed for certain death just yet:
Subscribers Plan to Stick it Out
Despite all these numbers about all the people who are
dropping cable and cutting the cord, recent studies have found that nearly all
of those who currently have cable TV service don’t plan on dropping it anytime
soon. They cite being used to it, liking having all the channels in one place
and needing it to watch the shows they like as the main reasons why they are
not considering switching. However, given how many people are cutting the cord
every year, it’s fair to wonder if these loyalists are not jumping ship faster
than they thought they would.
Elsewhere in the World
Another reason why cable TV might not be dead is that it
is still growing in many other parts of the world. For example, Eastern Europe,
Asia, Africa, and Latin America are all growing markets, largely because these
areas of the world are experiencing economic growth, which brings about higher
incomes and more buying power. However, as internet use also grows in these
parts of the world, it’s fair to suspect that this growth will give way to
streaming services before people get too hooked on cable. But then again, we
Is cable TV dead? Probably not completely. However, the
days in which cable TV was the primary (and often only) way people watched
television and other video content are most certainly gone. Furthermore, as
streaming services continue to grow and take over more of the market, cable TV
will likely continue to lose popularity amongst consumers across the world.
However, that cable TV is being replaced with streaming TV
suggests people aren’t cutting the cord because they are sick of watching
television but rather because they want a better, and cheaper, way to do it.
So, unless the cable companies adapt to meet these changing needs, it’s safe to
say they will soon cease to exist, passing forever into the annals of