The growth in the cord-cutting trend that began during the early days of the pandemic is expected to continue in the coming years. Data suggests that “traditional pay-TV penetration” will drop below 50 percent for the first time in 2026.
A report released this week by Digital TV Research found that while 91 percent of U.S. TV households had pay-TV subscriptions in 2010, that number dropped to 60 percent in 2021. And while there were 105 million pay-TV subscribers in 2010, that number is expected to fall even more in the coming years.
“The US lost 6 million pay-TV subscribers each year from 2019 to 2021,” Simon Murray, Principal Analyst at Digital TV Research, said in the report. "Losses will decrease from now on, but the 2027 total will be 12 million lower than 2021.”
In addition, the report found that the number of households without a pay-TV subscription is expected to jump to 72.86 million in 2027. In 2021, according to Digital TV Research, there were 19.8 million satellite subscribers and 45.7 million digital cable subscribers. By 2027, those numbers are predicted to drop to 14.6 million and 41.2 million, respectively.
The Leichtman Research Group, Inc. reported last November that the major TV providers in the U.S. lost 650,000 subscribers in the third quarter of 2021. This was more than the 90,000 subscribers that the providers lost in the third quarter of 2020, although that followed much deeper losses in the first two quarters of 2020 due to the pandemic.
In the third quarter of 2021, cable providers lost a total of 700,000 subscribers, with Comcast dropping 407,000 and Charter losing 121,000. In the “other traditional services” category, DirecTV lost an estimated 412,000 subscribers, while Dish dropped 130,000 and Verizon Fios lost an additional 68,000 customers.
Streaming services, meanwhile, added a total of 679,884 subscribers in the third quarter, with Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, and FuboTV all posting six-figure gains. YouTube TV did not release subscriber figures for the quarter. Leichtman has not yet released its report for the fourth quarter, as not all of the companies in question have released their earnings.
Until relatively recently, the sports world was mostly sheltered from cord-cutting. However, the regional sports network (RSN) model is believed to be in trouble, and it’s not clear exactly what the future of that model will look like. In the meantime, the majority of NFL games are available to stream. Most notably, the Super Bowl is scheduled to stream on Peacock. Similarly, most Olympic events are available for streaming on the service.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.