It wasn’t that long ago that having cable or satellite TV was the only way to ensure you could watch your NBC comedy, ESPN’s highlights of great sports moments, and get through your wish list of movies on HBO. But now with a deluge of TV alternatives, cable could quickly become a thing of the past, or at least take on a drastically different model to stay relevant.
According to a recent report from Pew Research Center, 15% of Americans who once paid for cable or satellite TV services have cut the cord. Another 9% of people never had cable to begin with, meaning almost a full quarter of Americans don’t pay for 800 channels they don’t watch.
Obviously, that means 76% of Americans are still dealing with gems like Comcast and Time Warner Cable. But as customer service doesn’t show great strides of improvement and prices continue to rise, many Americans are beginning to seriously weigh TV alternatives – and are sometimes choosing to go without cable altogether.
It would be one thing if these people were making the change five or 10 years ago. That would have meant missing out on most broadcast and cable options, relegating yourself to living under an entertainment rock. But today, so many options exist to replace the cable that it’s likely you won’t even miss it.
Sure, there are some ways to reduce your existing cable bill, without getting rid of it completely. But the larger finding of the Pew study is that the shift is generational in nature. About 65% of young people ages 18 to 29 subscribe to cable TV, compared to 73% of adults ages 30 to 49 and 83% of adults 50 and older. According to Pew, about 16% of those millennials never had cable to begin with, and 19% of them got rid of the service after initially subscribing.
Among those who don’t subscribe, 64% of young people said alternatives to cable or satellite TV is the main reason they aren’t adding money to Comcast’s coffers. In most cases, having a broadband Internet connection and a smartphone also go hand-in-hand, providing online options that didn’t exist in such a robust way a few years ago.
For many respondents, the driving decision to cut the cable cord was a financial one. It’s great that Netflix is coming out with original shows, but the platform’s low prices are what continue to attract new users, compared to much pricier cable packages. About 71% of Americans who never signed up for cable said they couldn’t afford it, and 74% of people who gave up their cable channels said their packages were too expensive.
Meanwhile, relatively new offerings like Crackle offer free TV and movies, much like Hulu did before most quality options went behind a paywall. Antennas are more advanced and can get you crystal-clear channels for free, especially if you live in a populated area. If you’re used to on-demand television, new devices like Tablo record any show you want and streams it to any compatible device, so you can watch CBS’s lineup whenever you want from your smartphone, TV, or laptop.
Roku offers streaming, Amazon gives Netflix some competition, and Sling TV gives you access to ESPN and ESPN2 (along with several other channels) for $20 per month. Devices and subscriptions can add up too, but it takes a lot to get even close to the cost of cable, which now averages $99 per month. In less than three months, that money can more than pay for a new Tablo device and antenna, and probably even cover a Netflix subscription.
It will take a long time for cable to fall to a la carte television – Comcast alone has a market cap worth $134 billion. But the recent Pew findings show that people are making moves they haven’t before, because there are more options at their fingertips. It’s no longer entertainment suicide to cut the cable cord – everyone at the water cooler is talking about Making a Murderer anyway.