TV service without cable or satellite

4. One-in-seven Americans are television “cord cutters”

An additional element in people’s portfolio of tools to access information is more traditional – whether they have a subscription to a cable or satellite television service. A shift in how people watch TV is underway, as the new Pew Research Center data suggest 15% of American adults are now “cord cutters” – that is, they indicate that they once had a cable or satellite TV connection, but no longer subscribe. Another 9% of Americans have never had a cable or satellite subscription at all, meaning that a total of 24% of Americans currently do not subscribe to cable or satellite TV in their homes (76% of Americans subscribe to pay TV service at home).

There are generational aspects to this phenomenon, as young adults are the least likely age group to have a cable or satellite subscription. Some 65% of those ages 18 to 29 have cable or satellite service at home, compared with 73% of adults ages 30 to 49 and 83% of those 50 or older. One-sixth of young adults (16%) report they never had a cable or satellite subscription, while 19% “cut the cord.”

For these young people, alternative access to content is crucial. Some 75% of young adults without a cable or satellite subscription say they can access content they want to watch either online – perhaps by binge watching their favorite shows through an online service like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime – or via an over-the-air antenna. Overall, 64% of those without cable or satellite TV cite alternative access to content as a reason they do not have cable or satellite service at home.

Income also comes into play for those without pay TV. Some 63% of homes with annual incomes under $20, 000 have either cable or satellite service, compared with 86% of households whose annual income exceeds $75, 000. Cord cutters are more likely to live in lower income households as well. In homes whose annual incomes are $20, 000 or below, 21% have cut the cord, while 14% of households above that income threshold have cut the cord.

In the context of their other digital access tools, cord cutters – as well as those without cable or satellite services more broadly –exhibit slightly different adoption patterns from the population as a whole. For those without cable or satellite service at home:

  • 70% have smartphones;
  • 54% have a home broadband subscription;
  • 25% are “smartphone-only.”

In terms of overall “advanced internet access, ” (that is, a broadband subscription and/or a smartphone) those without a paid TV subscription show about the same level as the population as a whole – 80% for them, compared with 81% for all adults.

For “cord cutters, ” (the 15% of all adults who once had a cable or satellite subscription but no longer do) the access patterns look like this:

  • 75% have smartphones;
  • 58% have a home broadband subscription;
  • 27% are “smartphone-only.”

Just over four-in-five (84%) have “advanced internet access, ” that is either a smartphone or home broadband subscription.

Those without pay TV – and cord cutters especially –rely on a different mix of access tools for digital content, a mix that emphasizes smartphones over a home broadband subscription. And these preferences are driven in many cases by affordability. Some 71% of those without cable or satellite say these services are too expensive for them, with 74% of cord cutters saying this.

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