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Could quarantine lockdown signal the end of cable TV in the US?

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Daniel Garcia Senior Consultant 27/07/2020

A view from our US team

Since COVID-19 hit the US and caused out of home entertainment to plummet, viewership among streaming services has gone up by half

Almost half (44%) of Americans who still have cable say that they would consider cord cutting.

Fun fact: Can you guess what category is the most streamed for both TV shows and movies? Find the answer at the bottom of the article.

As a country that houses Broadway, Hollywood and the Las Vegas strip – it’s no surprise that America is considered one of the culture and entertainment capitals of the world.

But with the coronavirus lockdown causing all of these iconic outlets to close their doors, how were Americans going to bring their entertainment home to their living room?

Many have been turning towards the streaming of movies and TV shows to keep them entertained during this period. Over half (54%) of people who have previously streamed before say that they have been streaming more since lockdown began.

Perhaps unsurprisingly due to its global skyrocket in popularity over the past few years, Netflix has the highest membership among respondents, with eight in ten using the service and 48% saying it was their most preferred streaming service. About half were currently subscribed to either Hulu or Amazon Prime.

But people have also been signing up to services they weren’t previously subscribed to, in a bid to keep up with the latest content. Netflix is the most popular among new subscribers, taking 25% of the share of new memberships. Amazon Prime follows (19%), with Hulu and Disney+ also acquiring new sign ups (both 17%).

What does the rise of streaming mean for cable TV?

‘Cord cutting’ is a term that has been used to describe the process of cancelling a cable or satellite subscription and replacing it with either one or a selection of different streaming services.

The benefits of doing so could include a more personalized bank of content to choose from, money saving, and less hassle when it comes to renewing contracts.

In concerning news for the cable industry, as streaming services continue to gain popularity, almost half (44%) of Americans who still have cable say that they would consider cord cutting.

Part of this may be due to the fact that streaming services offer less commitment and more financial fluidity than cable, which is usually an annual financial commitment. Despite streaming being significantly up during lockdown, most people are still paying the same amount as they previously were (less than $40 a month) – suggesting that there hasn’t been a negative financial impact on in-home entertainment spend.

Perhaps this is due to flexibility in ways of subscribing. Across the different streaming services we surveyed, only 70% of people have their own membership (i.e. don’t share it with another person). The other 30% ranges from one person being fully financially responsible for the membership and sharing their log in, to splitting costs with those they share with, and finally to borrowing a subscription without paying or sharing costs at all. Three out of four times people are sharing their membership with family members.

Services that had a notable number of subscribers who are either financially responsible for the membership or share costs with another person include HBO GO, Fubo TV and Sling TV. The most likely to have subscription ‘borrowers’ (not paying or sharing any costs at all) include Hulu, Apple TV and Disney+.

It’s not just younger people that are using streaming services

Some may think that the rise of streaming services is heavily due to young people and their obsession with choice and readily available content. However, the data shows that parents are actually one of the biggest groups benefiting from streaming services, especially during lockdown.

Almost half (48%) of parents say that their children are watching more content via streaming services since the lockdown began. Parents see it as an opportunity to socialize and spend quality time with their children when possible, with 44% watching alongside their children at least sometimes.

A third of parents have also found that streaming services help keep their children entertained – though when it comes to choosing what to stream, half of parents monitor and control what their kids are allowed to watch, with just a quarter (23%) giving them free reign.

So, what is the future for cable TV?

There’s no doubt that streaming services provide ease, flexibility and choice when it comes to watching TV shows and movies at home. And lockdown has inevitably led to many of us consuming more entertainment from our homes, with the outside world practically closed off to us all.

But as the US continues to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and things begin to look a little brighter, perhaps the reliance on home content will decrease slightly.

With more to entertain us outside of our four walls, many may not feel so drastically inclined to make a rash decision towards cord cutting just yet – but the trend towards more streaming based content consumption is certainly something that is on the rise and could signal the future for our TV and movie watching habits.

Answer: Since the lockdown began, most people have been watching dramas (whether it be TV shows or movies). The second and third most watched categories were comedy and action respectively.

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