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Survey: Only 28% of Viewers Say Cable is Their Default Source for TV

David Satin

The decline of linear viewing is continuing apace, and cord cutters are multiplying every day. That’s according to a new survey from Hub, which has released its annual “Decoding the Default” survey. The study tracks where viewers are turning first when they’re ready to watch TV, and the numbers have more warning signs for multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs).

According to Hub’s survey, 28% of respondents said that they go to live TV on cable or another MVPD source first when deciding to watch TV. That number sounds low at first, but it is still the highest single source of first-choice viewing of any of the options available; Netflix came in second at 23%.

But wait, isn’t that good news for linear TV? It’s still the avenue most people think of first when they want to watch TV, right? Yes, but the data from Hub makes it clear that the results are more nuanced than that. MVPD sources may be leading now, but they are at their lowest point as a default source for TV watchers since Hub created the “Decoding the Default” survey.

As the data shows, if the number of respondents who picked Netflix as their go-to choice is combined with the number of participants who answered one of the other “Big 5” streaming services, the number jumps to 39%, which beats MVPD sources handily.

Hub sees loyalty to a default viewing source as a much better predictor of future success than subscriber numbers, which are subject to churn for a variety of reasons including price fluctuations, changes in content offerings, and more.

“At a time when the typical TV consumer uses an average of 7.4 different sources of TV content (Hub, The Best Bundle, 2022), simple penetration of a service in the marketplace is no longer a reliable measure of long term service success,” said Peter Fondulas, Principal at Hub and co-author of the report. “A much better predictor is how much consumers engage with each service they have—and in particular, which they consider their TV viewing home base.”

Age is a big determining factor when breaking down the responses to which default source for TV viewers are choosing. Half of audiences 55 years of age and older choose live TV on MVPD sources first, while only 12% of viewers from age 18-34 default to live TV. Those younger viewers overwhelmingly pick Netflix first, at a clip of 38% versus just 8% of older audiences defaulting to Netflix.

So yes, live TV is hanging onto a slim lead as the top individual default source for TV viewers, but this may well be the last year it can say that. Online platforms are already dominating traditional pay TV sources in general as the default home for TV watching; 57% of respondents to Hub’s survey said that they use an online source for their default viewing, as opposed to 38% who said they used pay TV.

As consumer preferences continue to change and adapt as industry and economic conditions shift, the decline of traditional TV platforms will only continue to accelerate. Based on Hub’s data, it looks like that trend is only beginning to ramp up.

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