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Cable could lose over 39 million subscribers this year to streaming services

Published Feb 14th, 2019 10:05PM EST
Cord cutting cable TV
Image: Shutterstock

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The bad news keeps getting worse for Big Cable, and there’s no end in sight. The latest? UBS this week released the results of its media consumption survey that offers a look at how media like TV is faring these days, and one of its takeaways that ought to scare legacy cable providers is that 20 percent of respondents said they’re thinking about ditching their cable package and cutting the cord in the next 12 months.

From that, we can make a few arguably reasonable assumptions. According to Variety, about 196.3 million Americans were paying for cable at the end of 2017. If you use the 20 percent total from the UBS survey, that gives you a figure of 39 million potential cord-cutters. Which is certainly possible, given that an estimated 33 million Americans were forecast to cut the cord last year.

From there, you can begin to see why this is such a seminal moment for TV and especially the cable industry. If we indeed see 39 million US cord-cutters in 2019, that could push the total number of cable-ditchers well past 70 million — a base of former cable consumers who presumably are gone and never coming back.

About the UBS note this week, the folks over at noted that: “Among people considering streaming TV services, Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV are the most popular options … The new UBS Evidence Media Lab Consumption survey (conducted in Nov. 2018) found that willingness to sign up for streaming TV among respondents jumped from 28% in May 2018 to 33%. That interest was even higher in SVOD households, broadband-only homes and with younger demographics. While Hulu and YouTube piqued the most interest, UBS found that fewer people plan on having both streaming and traditional pay TV simultaneously.”

According to UBS analyst John Hodulik, “…Fewer respondents plan to ‘double up’ or keep both their traditional and streaming TV subscriptions, reversing an earlier dynamic where customers kept both as they tested new platforms.” He adds that “As younger generations increasingly shift to digital platforms, we believe traditional subs will remain under pressure. Cost continues to be the primary motive for abandoning pay TV, but the survey also showed more citing streaming alternatives as a motive.”

As we told you yesterday, new figures show that the five biggest US cable TV providers saw their collective subscriber total drop by 4.2% last year, reflecting a loss of 3.2 million customers for 2018. All in all, certainly a worrying moment for cable TV.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.