The number of households giving up traditional pay television subscriptions continues to increase at a rapid clip. By the end of 2021, more than a fifth of U.S. households are expected to be cord-cutters, according to an August eMarketer forecast released today, and, by 2022, the number of cord-cutting households is expected to make up nearly a quarter of total U.S. households.
As of 2019, nearly 21.9 million U.S. households are expected to have given up the traditional pay TV services they previously had, constituting 17.3% of all U.S. households, according to the research firm. That number of cord-cutting households is expected to climb steadily in the coming years and reach 34.9 million households in 2023, accounting for about 27% of all U.S. households.
The number of cord-cutting households is expected to grow by 15.5% in 2020 to 25.3 million households. Subsequent years may see a slightly less aggressive year-over-year growth rate of households cutting the cord, according to eMarketer’s figures; the number of cord-cutter households is expected to increase 13% in 2021 to 28.6 million households, 11.2% in 2022 to 31.8 million households and 9.7% in 2023 to 34.9 million households.
The report underscores an oft-repeated trend afflicting traditional TV providers: Americans are dropping their traditional television services and typically replacing them with streaming options like Netflix or Hulu. Still other consumers are opting never to get a traditional TV service in the first place.
The report predicts that the the loss of pay TV households around the U.S. won’t only continue apace year-over-year. Instead, it’s expected to accelerate.
The number of U.S. households purchasing traditional pay TV services has declined at a rate of 4.2% year-over-year since 2018. That rate is expected to remain largely steady through 2021, according to eMarketer’s predicted figures—but by 2023, though, the rate of pay TV household losses is expected to reach a slightly steeper 4.3%. (For comparison, the number of pay TV households dropped 3.4% in 2017 and 1.9% in 2016.)
This year, the number of pay TV households in the U.S. is expected to dip 4.2% to 86.5 million.
Conversely, the number of U.S. households forgoing pay TV services—which comprises both cord-cutters and cord-nevers, or people who have never had a traditional pay TV service—is expected to swell to 40.2 million in 2019, a 19.2% year-over-year increase. That figure is expected to increase to 56.1 million by 2023, which will be only 16.6 million less than the expected 72.7 million households that will still have pay TV by then.
EMarketer chalked up the increasing cost of traditional TV subscriptions, which results in a drop-off of customers, as a possible reason for the modest acceleration in cord-cutting rates.
“As programming costs continue to rise, cable, satellite and telco operators are finding it difficult to turn a profit on some TV subscriptions,” eMarketer forecasting analyst Eric Haggstrom said in a statement about the report. “Their answer has been to raise prices across the board, and it seems that they are willing to lose customers rather than retain them with unprofitable deals.”
Satellite television providers are expected to face the biggest losses. Household subscriptions to satellite TV are expected to drop by 7.1% this year. Telco and cable providers are also facing down respective declines of 4.6% and 2.4%, eMarketer said.
There’s more bad news for traditional TV: U.S. viewers aren’t just giving up pay TV; they’re also spending less time watching it.
The number of hours U.S. viewers will spend watching traditional TV is expected to drop 3% to an average of 3 hours and 40 minutes, eMarketer said. U.S. viewers in every age bracket are expected to spend less time watching traditional TV, but the declines are steepest among viewers between the ages of 12 and 17, who will spend 10% less time watching television than they did last year.
“As viewing time and the number of TV households drop, networks will have to sell ads at higher prices to account for lost viewership,” Haggstrom said in the eMarketer report. “This will become increasingly difficult to do over time. As a result, traditional TV networks such as Disney and NBCU are bulking up their direct-to-consumer [DTC] digital offerings in order to regain lost viewers.”
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