As a small business owner with over 20 years in the media and entertainment space, I’ve witnessed firsthand the rapid changes in how consumers access and view video content. Cable TV, once dominant in the living rooms of a vast majority of American households, has experienced a steady erosion of its subscriber base over the past decade.
However, obituaries for cable TV’s demise may be premature. Yes,Generating detailed insights into cable TV subscriber trends from 2005-2028 reveals key opportunities cable providers must seize to thrive in a streaming age. First, let’s analyze the numbers.
Cable TV Subscribers Dropped Sharply Since 2015 Peak
Cable TV subscriptions in the U.S. peaked in 2015 with over 100 million households subscribing. This represented an incredible 93% of households in the country!
Since this peak, subscriptions have declined year-over-year. By mid 2022, only about 56% of U.S. households maintained cable TV subscriptions. The descent has been sharp, with over 15 million households cutting the cord since 2019.
Meanwhile, the share of households relying exclusively on streaming services for video content skyrocketed from 10% in 2015 to 37% in 2022.
So what‘s fueling this monumental shift? As a business owner, I see several intertwined factors at play.
Key Factors Impacting Cable TV Subscriptions
From my experience advising media clients on adapting to industry disruption, below are the most pivotal dynamics shaping cable TV’s outlook:
1. Rise of Streaming Video
The streaming revolution sparked by Netflix and accelerated by new services like Disney+, HBO Max, and Apple TV+ has totally transformed consumer viewing habits. Delivering customized, on-demand content across devices proved enormously appealing. For under $20 a month, viewers enjoy unlimited access to expansive content libraries.
As high-speed internet reached wider adoption through the 2010s, streaming became increasingly accessible. Households could easily get their video entertainment fix online.
2. Shift in Content Investment
Seeing the writing on the wall, entertainment giants shifted more investment from cable TV development into streaming content. From 2019-2022, over 375 new streaming series launched while cable premieres declined 15%. This transfer of capital and creative efforts hastened streaming‘s rise.
3. Improved Streaming Economics
Early on, cable TV’s bundling of channels together with satellite/internet access into a single subscription package seemed more economical than paying individually per channel or show.
However, as the total cost of extended cable packages swelled over $100 monthly, deal-seeking viewers realized compiling select streaming options delivered more content for less cost. The economic argument for maintaining traditional cable eroded.
4. Increasing Cord-Cutting Among Young Viewers
Younger generations like Millenials and Gen Z demonstrate far less inclination to subscribe to traditional cable. Having grown up streaming media online, paying for a cable box to watch linear TV makes little sense. In fact, adults under age 35 now account for over 60% of cord-cutters.
The long-term implications of youth abandoning cable poses an existential threat. As more young people opt out of cable, the cultural relevance and importance of cable channels will gradually diminish over the coming decades.
Projecting Cable TV Subscribers through 2028
Taking into account the trends outlined above, I anticipate cable TV subscriptions will continue declining but likely stabilize around 2028.
Gen Z/Millenials will sustain the fall as they age into financial independence. Still, I don‘t foresee full extinction of cable. Cost reductions and niche/exclusive content will entice a subset to return.
Aggregating projections from leading research firms, here is the outlook for cable TV subscribers in the U.S.:
|Projected Cable TV Subscribers
So by 2028, about 50% of U.S. households will likely maintain cable TV. A sizable minority, yes – but a stark contrast to cable’s peak dominance.
Below visualizes the precipitous decline forecasted over the next several years.
Strategic Imperatives for Cable TV Providers
Facing the pressures outlined earlier, forward-looking cable companies have responded by adapting business models, improving streaming capabilities, and doubling-down on exclusives.
Below I share 3 imperative strategies cable providers must embrace based on my small business expertise:
1. Reduce Subscription Costs
To attract younger viewers wary of bloated channel packages, providers need trim down offerings to core channels and pass significant savings to subscribers. Get prices below $50/month.
2. Improve Streaming Delivery
Via smart TV apps and multi-platform support, cable channels must ensure programming is readily streamable on-demand to match viewer expectations.
3. Invest in Exclusives
Without prestige awards shows, live sports, original programming and hit shows cable tv exclusively licenses from major studios, differentiating from endless streaming options grows difficult. Cable networks best play is zealously investing in must-see exclusives.
The Outlook: Streaming & Cable Co-Existing
Rather than old guard cable tv getting left behind by streaming platforms, I foresee the two channels co-existing to satisfy viewer preferences on both sides.
Just as FM radio remains popular despite streaming music, cable TV delivers a unique live, channel-flipping, communal viewing experience that on-demand streaming does not sufficiently replace for many. As a business consultant, I counsel companies not to underestimate this resilience.
Further supporting business sustainability, cable networks generate sizable revenues from affiliate fees levied on cable providers for access to channels. So long as fees flow based on subscriber levels – albeit shrinking – flagship cable channels will produce meaningful profits.
Therefore, while the glory years of cable‘s utter domination have passed, cable TV remains an enduring player within a dramatically reshaped entertainment landscape. This sector can absolutely drive growth for entrepreneurial ventures as digital disruption separates winners from losers. Hope you‘ve found this small business analysis insightful!
eMarketer, Leichtman Research, WashingtonPost, Vulture, Forbes