Why People Cut the Cord

TiVo did a large market survey at the end of last year that, among many questions asked cord cutters why they cut the cord. Respondents were allowed to choose more than one response, with the responses as follows:

  • Too expensive                                     80%
  • Use an Internet streaming service   48%
  • Use antenna to get basic channels   27%
  • Like to binge watch entire seasons  19%
  • Dropped cable when moving            13%
  • Like the streaming original content 11%

Interesting to me personally was that my number one reason for cutting the cord was not even on this list. I’ve found that I can no longer tolerate watching linear TV. I generally am multi-tasking when watching video and I love the ability to pause, re-wind or watch video in a manner that suits my mood at the moment. I can absolutely not stand commercials any longer, and that means I can’t stand broadcast cable. I tolerate commercials when watching sports, but I will not otherwise willingly watch anything that includes ads. The same goes for me for any web site that wants me to watch an ad first – I just skip past the site regardless of how interesting I might have found the content. I know there are ways to skip ads on linear TV using DVRs to record shows, but it takes more work and doesn’t work for channel surfing. Netflix and other OTT providers have let me just forget about ads.

But I’d like to look deeper at the primary reason people list for dropping cable TV – the cost. Certainly there are households who feel like they are getting priced out from being able to afford cable TV after each large annual rate increase. Real household incomes have not grown much for many years while cable rates have risen 6% to 7% each year. And so there are some households that are forced to give up cable when the alternative is not paying for something more important like rent or a car.

But I don’t think that is what most people mean when they say that cable costs too much. Most cord cutters are not dropping cable because they can no longer afford to pay the monthly bill – rather, what they really don’t like is the perceived value of cable. And value is something very different than cost.

We conduct customer surveys at CCG and I think the big national surveys are not digging hard enough with the questions they ask. I don’t fault them for that because the TiVo survey was not just asking about cord cutting, but also about a whole other range of issues related to video. Our surveys are generally being conducted in small town or rural markets where one of our clients is considering building a new network. And in these surveys we can dig a little deeper because we are trying to answer a much smaller range of questions.

For instance, consider rural homes and farms in areas with little or no broadband. People without broadband in these areas generally watch cable TV using satellite service since that is their only option. We don’t see much discussion about cord-cutting in these markets, because that would means cutting your home off from almost all video. In rural areas you might be able to get a few channels through an antenna, but sometimes that’s even very limited.

But today the majority of people with broadband have tried one or more of the streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. In doing so they are finding that they love the amount of unique content on these sites and they love the commercial-free streaming experience. And the more they like the streaming video experience, the less value they perceive in their linear cable TV subscription.

I think every cord cutter is happy to be saving money, and that is why they would pick that choice out of a list of reasons for why they cut the cord. But I really think that most of them really mean that they could no longer justify paying the high price for something that they no longer value as much as they did in the past.

In economic terms streaming video is now becoming a substitute for traditional TV. Since cable systems were built in the 70s the only real substitute for cable TV was rabbit ears and a big majority of homes opted to get more channels and more chose through a cable subscription. But as homes perceive streaming video as a substitute for a cable subscription they will do the side-by-side comparison and decide that cable TV costs more than what it’s worth to them. And I think this is what would prompt most cord-cutters to say that cable is ‘too expensive’ when given a survey.

2 thoughts on “Why People Cut the Cord

  1. Doug:
    I think one other aspect of the trends that is not realized is the quality and breadth of choices available to customers.
    In the 1970s, CATV systems offered less choices than are available now, but more choices than were available from broadcast TV… and certainly different choices than were available via broadcast.
    The problem now is that while there are more channel choices available, the quality and breadth of these choices are pretty much the same. The sports channels all show the same teams that THEY think YOU want to watch (in some cases, to get better choices, you have to sign up for “premium channels”). The movie channels are all pushing original programming, because that is where THEY get the biggest bang of YOUR buck (simple upstream and downstream economics, eh?).
    Yes, there is the constant wailing about the rising cost of content, but the truth of the matter is that originators of content are not necessarily making a larger share of the money… the distributor-channels are the ones earning those bigger bucks.
    And on top of all this, they add the moronic advertising… ’cause apparently the money-grab is just not big enough!!

  2. Money was a factor when I cut the cord, but an even bigger factor was the lack of value for that money.

    People will pay high prices if they perceive cable to be a good value. But as cable prices have risen, the programming has gotten exponentially worse and heavily skewed toward “reality” shows.

    Add to this the fact that cable programming is loaded with 30-50% ads, when you factor in all the scrolling ads, marathon infomercials, and network promotions, and you end up with a disgruntled customer base.

    Between Amazon Prime (which in my mind is free, since I signed up years ago for the shipping), YouTube, Netflix, FilmStruck, PBS, Pluto TV, Haystack TV, and Curiosity Stream, there’s more than enough to watch, often commercial free, and for free or for a fraction of the price. And I have access to far more great content than ever before. Good luck catching a film by Bergman or Kurosawa on a cable network.

    For sports, I pay a little for a service like Sling or PlayStation Vue 6 months out of the year. But I find the network shows available though these services unwatchable unless I record them first. There are simply too many commercial interruptions.

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