Pay-TV Penetration Said to Drop Below 8 in 10 TV Households

October 24, 2017

This article is included in these additional categories:

Demographics & Audiences | Household Income | Industries | Media & Entertainment | Pay-TV & Cord-Cutting | Television

Some 79% of US TV households subscribe to a pay-TV service, down from 82% last year, reports Leichtman Research Group (LRG) in a recent study. That’s down from a survey peak of 88% registered in 2010, as cord-cutting continues apace.

In fact, recent data from LRG indicates that the broadband market is now larger than the pay-TV subscriber market.

Of the 21% of TV households without a pay-TV service, two-thirds previously had one: one-third subscribed within the past 3 years, while another third last subscribed more than 3 years ago. The other third are so-called “cord-nevers” – who have never subscribed to a pay-TV service.

LRG’s survey has a roughly 3%-point margin of error, suggesting that pay-TV penetration could be anywhere from 76% to 82%. For context, GfK estimated last year that 3 in 4 US TV households were paying for legacy TV, while TDG found in its own study that 78% of broadband households had a pay-TV service.

Of course it’s the direction that counts more than the exact number – and the latest LRG figure represents the largest year-over-year decline this decade.

There are certain factors that seem to be linked to pay-TV penetration. Lower-income households (<$50k), for example, are almost twice as likely as those with incomes above $50k to forego pay-TV (29% and 16%, respectively). That aligns with research showing that cord-nevers and cord-cutters tend to have below-average incomes. Not surprisingly, the cost of pay-TV is dissatisfied subscribers’ main complaint, while Netflix’s main appeal is its pricing.

The LRG study found that monthly spending on pay-TV averaged $106. By comparison, the total price of TV viewers’ 10 most important channels – were they included in an à-la-carte package – would be just $15.30. (There is plenty of disagreement over the potential cost-savings – if any – of an à-la-carte package, though.)

Apparently, households that move also might abandon pay-TV in the process: LRG reports that 30% of households that moved in the past year don’t subscribe to a service. Previously, research has found that many movers switch pay-TV service providers. Another study has shown that only half of Millennials immediately sign up for pay-TV services when they move out on their own for the first time.

Another interesting factor linked to pay-TV subscriptions is the number of TVs in a household: LRG found that households with a single TV were more than 3 times more likely to lack a pay-TV service than those with 3 or more TVs in the household (39% and 12%, respectively). This might be because households with more TVs are generally heavier video consumers, whereas cord-cutters tend to be lighter video consumer overall.

The outlook doesn’t look too positive for pay-TV providers: just 1 in 10 non-subscribers said they plan to subscribe to a service in the next 6 months.

About the Data: The results are based on a telephone survey conducted in August 2017 among 1,201 adults age 18+ throughout the continental US.

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