The pandemic has changed how we see the world — literally.
Two years ago, an estimated 96.5% of U.S. households had a television. Yet only about a third of Americans say it would be “very hard” to give up their TV — substantially lower than the share of U.S. adults who say the same thing about their cellphone or the Internet, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January.
Just 31% of Americans said it would be very hard to give up their TV, down 13 percentage points from a 2006 survey by the Center. In total, just more than half of U.S. adults (55%) say their TV would be at least somewhat hard to give up.
Yet just two years later, cable and satellite TV use has dropped dramatically in the U.S.
As cable subscribers “cut the cord” — or more precisely “switch the cord” — from cable to broadband in the past 5 years, it has choked off funding for public access television stations nationwide. Vermont has about 25 PEG stations — and a majority of them get a lion’s share of their funding either from Comcast or Charter Communications.
The PEW Research Center reported demographic trends in a new report this month.
Throughout the 5-year period ending this year, the percentage of Americans receiving cable or satellite service dropped from 76% to 56%. PEW doesn’t capture the uptick in broadband subscriptions at the same time, and doesn’t breakout satellite (which has nearly collapsed compared to cable), but the 20% drop in total households in 5 years is a huge number, according to the Alliance for Community Media, which is an advocate and lobbyist for the PEG industry.
“The report underlines the need for all PEG content producers and channels to be seeking online multichannel solutions — that’s where an increasing amount of audience lives. And it strengthens the case for more sustainable and diversified solutions for funding local content and training,” writes ACM’s president in a note to its membership this week. “At the same time, people should not give up on the usefulness of a cable channel — whether for broad delivery to about half of the population (which is still a big number) or particularly for services to older Americans.”
We all know people who, during the pandemic, either upped their TV watching, or made the switch from TV to broadband in order to stream content instead. (PEG stations do not necessarily get revenue from Internet services — just cable subscriptions.)
What PEW found is rather astounding.
The share of Americans who say they watch television delivered by cable or satellite has plunged from 76% in 2015 to 56% this year, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults. Some 71% of those who do not use cable or satellite services say it’s because they can access the content they want online, while 69% say the cost of cable and satellite services is too high and 45% say they do not often watch TV.
The drop in cable and satellite subscribers highlights the changing landscape of connectivity and media in an era of “cord cutting,” particularly as Internet streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have grown in popularity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among those who do not currently subscribe to cable or satellite TV, 61% report that they had done so in the past, while 39% say they have never been subscribers. When applying these findings to the population as a whole, this means 27% of U.S. adults are “cord cutters” and 17% have never had a cable or satellite subscription, according to the survey.
Unsurprisingly, the decline in cable and satellite TV subscribers since 2015 shows up across the demographic spectrum. The trends among different age groups are particularly striking.
Only about a third (34%) of Americans ages 18 to 29 now get TV through cable or satellite, down 31 percentage points from 2015. Fewer than half (46%) of those ages 30 to 49 currently get TV that way, down 27 points. Among those 50 and older, the decline has been less dramatic: Those ages 50 to 64 saw a 14-point drop since 2015. Those 65 and older saw a 5-point decline, which is not a statistically significant difference.
Not only do young adults stand out for not using cable or satellite TV, they are also much more likely than their elders to have never gotten TV at home via cable or satellite.
Unfortunately, that also likely means that younger adults were not tuned into PEG content, which provides a remarkable glimpse into community building with its local content of public meetings, locally produced shows, panels and more.
We tend not to think about the ripple effects of our actions. But if we care about our communities, we must pay closer attention so that we do not — inadvertently — threaten the future of our local sources of information and local democracy.