Study: Only Half of U.S. TV Content Viewers Still Subscribe to Traditional Cable/Satellite Service, But Streaming Facing Headwinds

Half (51%) of TV content viewers in the United States subscribe to a traditional cable/satellite service, down from 63% a year ago, according to the just-released “State of Pay TV, OTT & SVOD 2022” report from Horowitz Research.

In 2020, cable/satellite service penetration was at 81%. 

Meanwhile, the share of TV content viewers who rely only on streaming has continued its upward trajectory, with almost four in 10 (37%) of TV content viewers paying for an SVOD service, but not for cable or satellite. That’s an increase from 30% in 2021.

Notably, the study also found a slight drop in subscriptions to SVOD services, even as the number of SVOD services has increased over the past few years and as the share of streaming compared to traditional viewing grows. In the 2021 study, three in four (74%) of TV content viewers said they subscribe to at least one SVOD service; in this year’s study, 62% said they subscribe (an additional 10% have access to additional SVODs by sharing/borrowing passwords). This decline is due in part to a drop in Netflix subscriptions.

Meanwhile, the number of TV content viewers leveraging free, ad-supported sources for TV content (antennas as well as free streaming services), has remained unchanged. Two in three (66%) said they use these services, on par with the number who subscribe to at least one SVOD.

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What is on the rise, the study found, is the monthly cost consumers are paying for streaming services, driven by an increase in the number of services available in the market, and price increases from Netflix, Hulu Plus Live TV, Disney+ and others. The Horowitz study found that on average, streaming services subscribers (including those with SVOD and/or vMVPD services such Sling TV or Hulu Plus Live TV) report spending $75.80 per month on their services — up $26 per month from the reported average spend last year. And, despite the proliferation of services, four in 10 (40%) TV content viewers in the 2022 study said they “have a hard time finding something to watch.”

With costs on the rise, perceptions of streaming as a better value than cable/satellite are beginning to erode, the study found. While in 2021 49% of consumers without cable/satellite services felt they were “saving a really good amount of money” by just relying on streaming, this number dropped to 39% in the current year’s study.  

The study findings suggest that churn, already an issue for streaming services, will become an even bigger challenge moving forward as consumers become even more cost-conscious, according to Horowitz. Almost one in five (18%) SVOD subscribers surveyed said they are planning to cancel at least one of their services, as are almost four in 10 (42%) of those subscribing to a vMVPD.

“It seems the streaming honeymoon is coming to an unavoidable end,” noted Adriana Waterston, chief revenue officer and insights and strategy lead for Horowitz Research. “What seemed like a fantasy come true — thousands upon thousands of hours of top-notch content available on-demand for almost no money and few, if any, ads — was never going to be a sustainable business model, given what it costs to produce and acquire great content. The next phase in this maturing industry will be a reset. We expect to see more advertising in free or low-cost, ad-supported tiers, such as the one Netflix is planning to offer, and more consolidation of services and subscriptions like what just happened with Discovery and WarnerMedia. Hopefully, for the consumer, this will translate to some cost savings, more predictable spending, and an even better user experience across the board. It will also translate to new opportunities for brands and advertisers to connect with audiences in new and innovative, interactive ways.”

 

Black Audiences Increasingly Cutting the Cord

Black audiences are increasingly opting to cut the cord, a new Horowitz study finds.

Though black households were shedding cable at a slower rate as compared to the overall market, Horowitz data shows that over the past four years, MVPD penetration among black households has declined from 88% in 2017 to 61% in 2021 — a 25% decrease. Among black consumers who are cord-cutters, half have cut the cord within the past three years.

In 2018, 69% of black households were “content omnivores,” a term Horowitz coined in 2017 to describe households who are the hungriest for content and therefore pay for traditional MVPD services as well as a variety of streaming services to access all the content they want.

In this year’s study, only one in three (33%) black households are content omnivores; almost four in 10 rely on combinations of streaming services, digital antennas, and/or vMVPD services to access TV content (one in four rely only on traditional MVPD services and do not stream at all).

Income and age play important roles in platform choices, according to Horowitz. Black households with lower incomes are less likely to subscribe to traditional MVPDs, and 80% of black cord-cutters believe that they are saving at least a decent amount after having done so. Older black TV content viewers are more likely to subscribe to MVPD services (65% among those 50-plus) and to use antennas (28% among those 50-plus) than younger black TV content viewers (57% and 12% each, respectively).

Despite shedding the MVPD cord, there is still interest in many of the features of the multichannel experience. For example, 64% of black TV content viewers say that they enjoy flipping through channels, and the study finds that black TV content viewers still highly value live television, local broadcast news, national news and sports content — the mainstays of traditional providers.

Culturally relevant content is also in high demand among black audiences, with 60% of black consumers watching content geared to black audiences at least weekly.

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“Horowitz has long asserted that black consumers are some of the best customers for entertainment content and services,” Adriana Waterston, Horowitz’s chief revenue officer and insights and strategy lead, said in a statement. “These audiences should not be taken for granted. Many companies are late to the game, only now focusing on the black audience in the context of BLM and new diversity mandates. To not be viewed as simply pandering, companies who hope to serve the black audience must make meaningful and sustained investments, not just in programming and marketing, but in community outreach and support, in order to earn this valuable audience’s trust.”