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Data Shows Cable Can’t Stop Subscriber Decline

Lauren Forristal

Picture this: You’re rummaging through storage, whether you’re simply walking down memory lane or looking for that ridiculous yearbook photo back from high school. During the search, you find an old record player, Walkman, and…what’s this? A cable box covered in dust? Boy, how time flies…

Okay, maybe that scenario is a little dramatic—cable television has been around since the late 1940s, and it continues to survive, against all odds. But how much longer will it be until we’re leaving it behind us, rotting in the attic next to VHS tapes and Betamax recorders?

A CBS News poll reports that 45% of Americans watch TV via a cable, 37% use streaming services, and 12% of viewers use a digital antenna. Over the past five years, streaming has increased in popularity among all ages.

Pros and Cons of Cable Television

Cord-cutting bias aside, cable TV can have its perks. Bundling is a no-brainer for media companies to earn profit, and consumers who favor variety have always loved the concept. For instance, CNN, MSNBC, and ESPN are, for the most part, locked inside the cable bundle, keeping the business alive and the pay-TV cancellations at a steady level.

Even streaming services have taken on the bundle strategy; Disney and its ESPN+ and Hulu bundle ensure subscribers get as much content as possible. FuboTV pretty much functions as a cable bundle, allowing users to watch their favorite channels and sporting events. Thus, without the blueprint of cable, a service like Fubo could never exist.

According to the Future of TV survey by The Trade Desk, 30% of Americans attribute live sports as the reason they’ll continue their cable subscription. Live sporting events dominate cable TV, as Sunday Night Football continues to be a tradition in many households. The same goes for live award shows, reality TV, and local news. Scripted television, however, is ruled by the OTT landscape.

Owning a cable or satellite service can seem like an unnecessary cost compared to the low monthly fee of $8.99 for a Netflix subscription. A Pew Research poll shows that nearly 8 in 10 adults aged 50 and older don’t have cable due because it’s too expensive. 72% of adults ages 30 to 49 agree with them, and 57% of 18-29 year-olds are in the same boat as well.

The average cord-cutter pays $85/month for OTT services, saving them about $30 every month when compared to traditional pay-TV packages. And by stacking services, viewers are creating their own video bundles for a lower price.

The Younger Audience Are Over it

Can you remember the last time you saw a cable box anywhere in a Millennial or Gen Z person’s home? As cable continues to age, so does its viewership. The younger you are, the less likely you are to even consider buying a cable or satellite service.

The Pew Research Center survey shows that 34% of Americans ages 18-29 get TV through cable. 53% of nonsubscribers of the same age range admit they don’t have cable because they don’t watch television that much.

It’s easy to see why Millennials and Gen Z are shooting down cable services. As the FAST industry picks up and more original content is exclusive to streaming, young people don’t want to pay for channels that they may or may not watch.

What’s So Bad About a Cable-Less World?

It’s inevitable that cable will slowly fade out until it’s only a memory, like Blockbuster or Lincoln Logs. Among all ages, 71% of U.S. adults don’t use cable services, and 39% of those Americans have never subscribed to pay-TV. This would mean that 17% of the population are considered “cord-nevers,” whereas 27% are cord-cutters. These cord-nevers can’t comprehend why people still pay for TV. And as more people cut the cord, it lowers the chance of brand-new cable subscribers.

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