A new report by Leichtman Research Group finds that the number of American households paying for cable has declined from a high point in 2010, but 83 percent of households are still shelling out money every month for TV. That share of subscribers is down from 87 percent five years ago.
It's a slip, but the data suggests that the U.S. is hardly living in a new era driven by "cord-cutting" millennials who have opted out of paying for cable altogether. The figures put the "digital revolution" narrative in perspective, despite recent moves by TV behemoths such as Comcast, whose subsidiary NBC Universal is pouring $200 million into new media outlets like BuzzFeed and Vox and attempting to tap into online streaming and mobile apps.
“Historically, consumers have gone in and out of the pay-TV category, primarily for economic reasons," Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group Inc., said in a statement. "While the rate of those leaving is actually similar to a decade ago, those who are entering or re-entering the market has decreased over time, and the industry is not keeping pace with rental housing growth.”
TV Is Still King
The Associated Press reported this week that people aged 18 to 34 spent around 109 hours a month watching live TV in the first quarter of this year, down from more than 131 hours a month during the same period in 2011. But TV still leads every other device among consumers, by a lot. People watching things on the Internet is up to about 17.5 hours per month, an increase from roughly seven hours a few years ago.
To be sure, cord-cutting is still a major concern for the industry. Based on a survey of 1,222 households, Leichtman found that about 2.5 percent of TV households paid to subscribe to a service in the past year but have dropped out -- compared to 1.5 percent in 2010, and 2.3 percent in 2005.
The report notes that the percent of households currently paying for TV services is up from a decade ago, but it still indicates a reversal from an ever-increasing share of Americans signing up over the past several years. For cable providers, the decline is even more troubling given that new household formation is up since the housing crisis, presenting more opportunities for new customers who, for whatever reason, simply aren’t signing up.
Twenty-one percent of those who moved in the past year aren't paying for a TV service, compared to 12 percent in 2010.