January 13, 2021
American households are cutting the cord on their cable TV subscriptions more rapidly than previously reported, according to a new survey of more than 2,100 U.S. consumers by The Trade Desk. The data shows 27% of U.S. cable TV subscribers are planning to cut their subscriptions by the end of 2021. That percentage is nearly double the 15% of cable subscribers who reported cutting the cord in 2020, and significantly higher than the approximate 3% annual decline cited separately eMarketer prior to 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated consumer behaviors and trends that are defining a new era of TV consumption. With more U.S. consumers working at home, many under increased budget pressure, and with the broader availability of streaming services, streaming consumption now accounts for 68% of TV viewing versus 28% for traditional TV viewing.
Even live sports can’t keep viewers tethered to traditional TV as more U.S. households turn from cable to streaming platforms to watch their favorite teams. After a pause in live sports caused by the pandemic, almost 39% of sports viewers are now watching live sports events via connected TV such as ad-supported streaming and social media platforms, according to the survey. Only 30% of U.S. consumers cite live sports as a reason for maintaining a cable TV subscription — significantly down from the 60% that cited live programming, including sports, just nine months previously.
“COVID has accelerated cord-cutting trends that were already underway, to a point where less than 50% of U.S. households today have a cable subscription,” Tim Sims, chief revenue officer of The Trade Desk, said in a statement.
Sims said the decline is not because consumers have fallen out of love with TV, but that there are now more convenient ways of consuming it. That even applies to traditional cable mainstays, such as live sports.
“As more broadcasters launch and expand their streaming services, these gaps are only going to widen,” he said.
As Americans shift to connected TV, there’s a limit to their tolerance for subscription services. Fifty-one percent of U.S. consumers are unwilling to spend more than $20 in total per month on streaming subscriptions, according to the survey. Furthermore, TV viewers are more than five times more likely to prefer free or low-cost streaming TV with ads, over streaming services with higher monthly subscription fees with no ads (72% versus 14%).
Advertisers Follow the Audiences; Rethinking Upfronts and CTV Skills Development
As traditional TV consumption declines and CTV viewership continues to rise, marketers are embracing the CTV opportunity. A separate survey of 150 advertisers conducted with Advertiser Perceptions found that, among marketers who had revised their TV plans as a result of the pandemic, CTV ranks as the #1 channel choice as marketers reallocate campaign budgets. Furthermore, marketers state that CTV now represents 18% of their advertising spend moving forward, a significant acceleration from a standing start in recent years.
But this shift means that marketers must rethink their longstanding ad-buying habits, as well as the necessary skills investments in their teams, to capture shifting audiences. For example, the majority (59%) of linear TV buyers said they are making fewer upfront commitments in 2021, with ad dollars moving from traditional TV programming to CTV.
In addition, marketers are rethinking how they can better equip themselves with the skills and capabilities to develop the right teams to keep pace with the accelerated shift to CTV. According to the advertiser research, ad buyers will focus on CTV marketing skills in 2021, as 37% said they intend to hire new talent fluent in CTV. And more than half (55%) said they plan to take steps to ensure their current TV ad buying teams can navigate both linear and CTV channels.
Every aspect of the decision-making process of TV advertising, including measurement, frequency and creative, will have to evolve as more consumers shift to CTV. And marketers are recognizing just how critically important CTV is to their advertising strategies if they want to win the hearts and minds of consumers. According to the survey, the top focus areas for CTV ad buyers are:
- The shift from a content-first to an audience-first approach — prime-time is now anytime, as marketers are no longer tied to a schedule.
- More focus on integrated, cross-channel strategies — to improve the viewer experience, manage frequency and better target specific audiences.
- Focus on non-traditional ad formats — especially shorter ads.
“The TV ad business is at a tipping point. Advertisers can reach more households via CTV than via traditional linear TV for the first time. That trend is not reversing,” said Sims.