There has been much debate about the extent of so-called ‘cord cutting’ or the defection of customers from pay television. Despite the massive growth in online subscription video services, only a small minority of homes in the United States rely exclusively on television programming delivered over broadband rather than broadcast or traditional pay television. Now we have evidence of the numbers.
At the start of 2010 there were around 115 million television households in the United States, according to Nielsen data. It peaked at over 116 million in the fourth quarter of 2010 and fell to under 114 million in the first quarter of 2013.
Nielsen has since changed the definition of a television household, to include those with a television but only a broadband connection. So the number of television homes is now back at 115 million.
From the last quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014 the number of broadband only television homes rose from 1.29 million to 1.63 million homes. This may represent the true extent of ‘cord cutting’ in America.
This represents less than 1.5% of television homes, which is consistent with a reduction in pay-television homes from over 90% in 2010 to just under 89.5% in 2014.
A 1.5% reduction in pay-television share over four years is relatively modest, compared to the massive adoption of online video services like Netflix, which now has over 35 million streaming subscribers in the United States. Most of them are clearly using such services in addition to pay-television subscriptions.
The number of homes in the United States reliant on broadcast signals has increased slightly since 2010, from 11.17 million to 11.62 million, or around 10% of television homes.
Nielsen reports that subscription video on demand services are now available in over 40% of television homes in the United States, rising to 50% among Asian Americans and over 60% among households with children.
In the first quarter of 2014, American adults still watched an extraordinary 36 hours and 40 minutes of traditional television a week, compared to 1 hour and 30 minutes of online video, according the Nielsen data.
The shift from cable to satellite and telco services has been much more significant. At the start of 2010 cable represented 56.5% of television homes, or 62.5% of pay-television services. By the first quarter of 2014 this had fallen to 47.8% of television homes, or 54% of subscribers.
Cable television has fallen from just under 65 million homes to just under 55 million over four years. Yet this does not imply a mass defection from pay-television.
Telco operators, primarily AT&T and Verizon, have meanwhile grown their share of pay-television homes from 5.8% to 11.9%, with the remainder taken up by satellite, essentially DIRECTV and DISH Network.
The informitv Multiscreen Index shows that the top 10 pay television services in the United States that report subscriber numbers added 314,300 digital television subscribers in the first quarter of 2014. Between them, these 10 services have 87.92 million subscribers, accounting for over 85% of the pay-television market in the United States.
The Nielsen Cross Platform Report provides quarterly profiles of television viewing in the United States. The informitv Multiscreen Index tracks trends in television services and provides an overview of annual and quarterly changes in subscriber numbers across 100 leading pay television services worldwide.