A survey in America asked people to choose between traditional pay television and subscription streaming services. Younger adults were much more likely to choose streaming services, which is perhaps unsurprising. Yet around 70% of those aged over 35 chose traditional pay television. So what does this mean for the future of streaming services and are they really a substitute for pay television?

The survey by TDG Research asked adult broadband users with both traditional pay television and subscription streaming services to choose between them.

Younger adults chose streaming services. 66.3% of those aged 18-24 and 61.8% of those aged 25-34 chose streaming services.

Older adults chose traditional cable, satellite or telco television services. 61% of those added 35-44 chose traditional television, rising to 77.3% of those aged over 65.

This might suggest that younger adults are more likely to reject traditional television and stick to streaming services. It also seems to suggest that those aged over 35 are more likely to choose traditional pay television.

Choice between traditional pay-TV and streaming services for adult broadband users with both services. Source: TDG Research.

There are a number of problems with the picture this presents.

Firstly, it assumes that traditional pay television and streaming services are substitutable. In many ways they are different and complementary services that address different needs.

Secondly, it assumes that those aged 18 to 34 are personally paying for the traditional pay television service. In many cases the younger respondents may not be paying the bill.

Thirdly, it assumes that the responses are weighted to reflect the population in general. Those aged 18-34 represent for 43% of the survey sample, but according to the 2010 census those aged 15-34 account for 27% of the population in the United States.

If the results were weighted by population one might find that 65% of those aged 18-34 chose streaming services, while 71% of those aged over 35 chose traditional pay television services, bearing in mind that they represent over half the population. Overall, 54% chose traditional television.

So what does this really tell us?

“Forced choice queries are valuable precisely because of the dilemma they pose,” said Michael Greeson, the director of research at TDG. “While today’s TV viewer can and often does use both legacy and streaming TV services, when forced to choose between the two, loyalties rise to the top, offering penetrating insight into where different age groups place greater value.”

Yet in many ways this presents a false dilemma. It is like asking whether you would choose a plane or a car as a mode of transport. The rational response is that it depends where you want to go.

The choice between traditional pay television and subscription streaming services is a false dichotomy.

Around a hundred million homes in America have pay television. Since the start of 2010 the number of homes subscribing to the top six pay television services in the United States has actually increased from 74.34 million to 78.32 million. In the same period the number of paid Netflix subscribers in the United States has risen from 12.27 million to 45.71 million. That is without counting similar services like Amazon.

It would appear that many Americans are choosing both pay television and streaming services, as in the case of this sample of over a thousand people with both.

One possibility is that in ten years time, the 25-34 cohort may maintain their apparent preference for streaming services. Alternatively, they may find that they have homes, families and careers to manage and their choices tend to reflect those currently aged 35-44.

In the intervening ten years it is just possible that the traditional pay television industry might adopt some of the characteristics of current streaming services, making the apparent need to choose between them less clear.

The survey result is from Benchmarking the Connected Consumer by TDG Research. It was based on a sample of 1146 responses from adult broadband users in the United States, conducted in the second quarter of 2016.