This is the Extent of Pay-TV Cord-Cutting in the Past Few Years

April 21, 2021

This article is included in these additional categories:

Boomers & Older | Demographics & Audiences | Digital | Hispanic | Household Income | Pay-TV & Cord-Cutting | Television | Video | Youth & Gen X

Pew Pay TV Penetration by Age 2021 v 2015 Apr2021Since 2015, the percentage of US adults who say they receive TV via cable or satellite at home has decreased by more than one-quarter (26%), dropping from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021. This is per data from Pew Research Center that also shows that younger adults are the least likely to be pay-TV subscribers.

Pew Research Center’s survey of more than 1,500 US adults illustrates the extent of cord-cutting among younger adults compared to that of older adults. Data from 2015 shows that about two-thirds (65%) of adults ages 18-29 received TV through cable or satellite at home. That share has halved to 34% in 2021. Similarly, 46% of adults ages 30-49 currently subscribe to pay-TV, compared to 73% who did so in 2015.

These numbers are bound to drop even more, with a survey from The Trade Desk and YouGov finding that 36% of 18-34-year-olds plan to quit their pay-TV subscriptions this year.

The decrease in pay-TV subscriptions is less dramatic among older adults. In 2015, 8 in 10 adults ages 50-64 subscribed, while 66% do so now. For adults ages 65 and older, very little has changed in 6 years, with 81% currently subscribing, down from 86% in 2015.

Taking a closer look at other demographic factors, Hispanics in the US have seen an above-average percentage point drop in pay-TV subscribers. In 2015, about three-quarters (74%) of Hispanics received TV via cable or satellite at home, compared to about half (49%) who subscribe in 2021.

These findings match up with other data on Hispanics and pay-TV. MarketingCharts’ latest US Media Audience Demographics report shows that Hispanic adults are less likely than average to watch cable TV weekly. And, Nielsen’s Total Audience Report found that Hispanic adults spend considerably less time each day with traditional TV compared to Black adults.

There have also been notable decreases in pay-TV subscriptions among adults in both lower-income and high-income households. Some 44% of those with household incomes less than $30K continue to subscribe versus 67% in 2015. The percentage point change is even higher among individuals in the $75K+ income range (86% in 2015 vs. 60% in 2021).

The Appeal of Online Content

While adults are dropping their pay-TV subscriptions, they seem to be picking up more subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) subscriptions. And, at least a portion of the time they spend with these SVODs is spent viewing live TV.

Indeed, Pew’s research found that 71% of those adults who do not subscribe to pay-TV at home do so because they can access the content they want to watch online. Being able to find content online is particularly appealing to young adults (ages 18-29), with 9 in 10 (91%) giving this as one of their reasons for currently not subscribing to pay-TV.

Cost appears to be more of a factor for older adults who have cut the cord. Some 72% of 30-49-year-olds and 77% of adults 50+ said that the cost of cable or satellite service being too expensive is why they do not currently subscribe to pay-TV at home.

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About the Data: Results for 2021 are based on a January-February 2021 survey of 1,502 US adults (18+).


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