A New Low: Just 46% Of U.S. Households Subscribe To Traditional Cable TV

from the not-a-fad-after-all dept

The “cord cutting” trend cable execs spent a decade claiming was a fad just broke another round of new records. According to Leichtman Research, major cable TV providers lost another 1.7 million subscribers last quarter, as users flock to streaming, over the air TV, TikTok, or, you know, books. Roughly 17,700 customers cut the cord every single day during the second quarter of 2023.

Over the last year (Q2 ’22 to Q2 ’23) the traditional cable TV sector lost a whopping 5,360,000 customers, compared to 4,235,000 customer defections the year earlier. The current number of U.S. households that has a cable connection sits somewhere around 46 percent, down from 73% at the end of 2017.

Comcast wound up being among the biggest losers in the quarter, losing 543,000 paying customers:

Historically, a big cable company like Comcast or Charter wasn’t too hurt by “cord cutting” because it could just jack up the cost of monopolized broadband access. And while that’s still generally true; here too cable giants are seeing increased competition from community broadband (co-ops, utilities, municipalities), 5G home wireless, and phone companies belatedly upgrading to fiber.

Interestingly though, streaming TV providers also wound up losing subscribers, albeit at a much slower rate:

The shift from traditional cable to streaming had some very obvious benefits. Lower costs, greater flexibility in choice, and even better customer service.

At the same time, as the streaming sector pursues quarterly growth, it’s increasingly adopting the kind of tactics that made cable TV so unpopular: relentless price hikes, shitty labor practices, and annoying new restrictions on usage. That, in turn, is driving more people to even less traditional services like Twitch or TikTok as the cycle of innovative disruption stumbles ever forth.

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Companies: charter, charter spectrum, comcast

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Comments on “A New Low: Just 46% Of U.S. Households Subscribe To Traditional Cable TV”

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Dan (profile) says:

Critical mass

Over the years I’ve noticed the quality of the content in general going down, as we all have. I often wonder if there will be a “critical mass” point where people will just say, “too many commercials with crap in between. Why bother turning on broadcast at all?”

I myself have gotten to the point where I turn on YouTube TV, and the commercial break seems to be always underway and so lengthy that I turn it back off and turn on YouTube or Emby.

Anonymous Coward says:


Over the years I’ve noticed the quality of the content in general going down, as we all have.

I haven’t. I remember watching TV in the ’80s and ’90s. We liked it at the time, but, in retrospect, most of it wasn’t very good. And, for old comedy shows, the laugh tracks are a constant reminder they’re old; that idea hasn’t aged well.

Sure, a lot of low-quality “reality” TV appeared about 15-25 years ago, but we’ve also been getting a lot more good TV. The overall amount of it seems higher, so maybe you’re just seeing Sturgeon’s Law in action (“ninety percent of everything is crap”; so, more TV means more crap). I often look up TV ratings now and see stuff around 8/10, sometimes upward of 9/10. It’s very difficult to find anything 30+ years old that people liked so much.

You mentioned commercials, but that’s not considered “content” by anyone except maybe Mike (or during certain overly-long sports events). The overall experience of broadcast and cable TV has indeed been getting worse—station logos, ads overlapping shows, longer ad breaks, show pre-emption, the inability to change channels quickly, prices, customer service, set-top boxes…—but I haven’t seen the quality of the content decrease.

rkhalloran (profile) says:

Re: Re: TV quality

Sure, a lot of low-quality “reality” TV appeared about 15-25 years ago, but we’ve also been getting a lot more good TV.

For better or worse, a lot of “reality” programming began with the last big writers’ strike, when the studios were looking for ANYTHING to fill timeslots. This gives me concern with the current strike; are we doomed to more Real Housewives and pseudo-sports drivel?

At the same time, the rise of streamers looking to draw eyeballs and not beholden to the cable carriers has led to a lot of very watchable shows. Netflix & Amazon have seemed willing to invest in longer-term productionw with an eye to retaining viewers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Netflix & Amazon have seemed willing to invest in longer-term productionw with an eye to retaining viewers.

With regards to Netflix (and some other streaming services, though I’m not sure about Amazon), a common complaint has been that they’re not thinking long-term anymore. Netflix, in particular, has become known for abruptly canceling shows that are not popular. So, who’s gonna watch an unfinished Netflix show, especially one that only has a single season? Of course, a reluctance to watch will only lead Netflix to cancel it sooner. It’s like they’re trying to copy Google’s infamous behavior. It’s about time for someone to start a “Netflix Graveyard – Killed by Netflix” site.

It doesn’t help that streaming providers don’t seem to realize that people came to streaming because they wanted to watch everything in one place. Now, providers are also removing existing shows and movies, and refusing to license their stuff to competitors. A Netflix that lets you watch basically any show or movie you’ve heard of, for $8 a month, is very different from a Netflix that lets you watch 30% of the stuff you want, for $16+ a month.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

are we doomed to more Real Housewives and pseudo-sports drivel?

To have no new TV shows is seeming less and less like “doom” as time goes on. We’ve now about a 50-year history of TV shows that aren’t going anywhere. If TV disappeared altogether in 2030, my backlog would probably keep me occupied till at least 2050. Imagine what might happen if any of that stuff ever actually got into the public domain, and could be distributed openly. That’s the real reason the corporations want eternal copyright.

Bobson Dugnutt (profile) says:

Why Fox "News" is king of cable

With cable and satellite TV services in decline, this means that Fox “News” will continue its dominance as the most-watched cable TV network.

On the flip side, it means Fox “News” gets to rule over the ashes.

Fox benefits from the demise of cable because of base erosion. As the denominator (total cable subscribers) goes down, and Fox “News” viewers (numerator) need cable to watch it, as long as the numerator does not decrease as much as the denominator, it will continue to be the top-rated network.

Also, the continued erosion of cable subscriptions means that cable TV demographics are skewing older. Since the industry is in secular decline — subscriptions peaked in 2000 — younger demographics are not going to replace older subscribers as they die or cancel services due to being on fixed incomes.

ECA (profile) says:


Even the TV brands on the net. Are adding TO MANY commercials. Go checkout crackle/Sony. Its sickening to even try to watch anything.

Iv blocked a very large amount of 3rd party adverts. And I SUGGEST to sites that I only block 3rd party, and if THEY make the advert part of their site and remove the CRAP(I still get tons of trackers every month) I will open my blocking. Other wise they can suffer.

If more people do this, it MIGHT help get it into THEIR HEADS. That 1 commercial every 10-15 is fine. A Batch of commercials at beginning or END, is fine, no more then 3 min, and 1 per min.

Iv seen Commercial batches 2-5, every 5 min. ANd Im tired of this crap. Its worse then TV.

Anonymous Coward says:


Why do the Paid For TV Programming shows have advertisements?

Why not? I guess the people paying to air that stuff didn’t pay enough, and the viewership is not exactly discriminating—they wouldn’t be watching if they had literally anything else to do. I can’t imagine anyone’s gonna cancel cable due to declining infomercial quality.

T.L. (profile) says:

The 1992 Cable Act is why cable is in decline

The main reason why cable has been losing ground to streaming has to do with the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992. The law allowed broadcasters the option to demand carriage fees from pay TV providers, with per-subscriber rates varying by channel (sports networks—like ESPN, which charges $9.42/subscriber on average—tend to be the most expensive to carry). Cable providers were against it as they felt broadcast stations (which the compensation provisions were supposed to apply to) should be carried for free; George H.W. Bush thought the law would be bad for cable customers and vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode the veto.

Media consolidation led to media companies to essentially extend the fee-for-carriage concept their cable networks, and ultimately abusing their market power to jack up subscriber fees. Consolidation in the cable industry gave providers little leverage over media companies, and the result was an increasing number of channel blackouts and consistent price increases for pay TV packages, resulting in customers cutting the cord and switching to streaming services (including vMVPDs like YouTube TV and Sling TV) and over-the-air broadcasts. Even though there have been bills introduced to change the retransmission consent model as late as 2021, Congress hasn’t bothered to fix the system and let pay TV providers twist in the wind, an odd case of supposedly pro-business politicians screwing over one industry, while the other is now seeing the gravy train it gained in 1992 steadily derail because it kept abusing its leverage.

It’s a wonder if traditional pay TV would be more competitive if some other fee system was used and regulated subscriber rates in a way that limits content distributors from hiking fees too much, like a flat royalty fee (at levels similar to what superstations used to receive when they were still prevalent). I don’t think other countries employ a fee-for-carriage system, I’m pretty sure Canada never has.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: nah it was Netflix

Netflix allowed cable subscribers to get content without watching ads or subsidizing sports they never watched. So a lot of them left and since then, it’s been a steady erosion, to the point where the cable cross-subsidy system is now breaking down entirely.

I saw this coming years ago and my only surprise is, it’s taking a lot longer than I would have thought. But sports is migrating to streaming now and then it’s all over for linear TV.

Cable TV can never compete with streaming for a simple reason: streaming is global and cable isn’t even national. The biggest cable company is around 30M, while Netflix is 238M and climbing.

Netflix has talked about their addressable market being 800M. That’s probably going to require they institute a FAST tier for the really low ARPU parts of the world, but it’s still revenue and shows the massive difference in scale.

Streamers can amortize content costs to a far better degree than cable could hope for. Imagine Netflix with say 300M paying customers and another 500M on a FAST tier, where they toss the content they make for the 300M so the FAST tier doesn’t cost them any more and is pure gravy.

And there will be a few other Netflixes out there – Amazon and the Disney+/Hulu merged service. Maybe Max too. Cable has absolutely no hope vs that.

T.L. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You could argue both are true. However, cable could have remained competitive with streaming had it not been for media companies gradually strangling their cash cow that is retransmission payments. A compensation system that didn’t result in cable/satellite subscribers having to subsidize channels they don’t watch and get subjected to blackouts only to pay more for them could have helped traditional pay TV stay competitive with Netflix and other streaming services.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

However, cable could have remained competitive with streaming

Except for the big advantage of streaming, the viewer watches on their schedule, and can pause or stop viewing and come back later id their viewing is interrupted for any reason. No need to look at the schedules, and if something has a good review you can watch it now, rather than waiting for the repeat some time in the future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

However, cable could have remained competitive with streaming had it not been for media companies

Meh. Let’s not pretend that these are particularly different companies. Comcast owns NBCUniversal, Charter was associated with Time Warner, and various other links have come and gone.

Cable operators were well positioned to become streaming providers. “On-demand” was a big TV buzzword in the ’90s, so it’s not like they didn’t know, and the bandwidth of a cable system would’ve given them an inherent decade head-start on any internet-based competitor. Common ownership would’ve given them at least some shows and films to stream. But, no, they went the other way, forcing or almost-forcing internet subscribers to subscribe to TV—until large numbers of would-be subscribers starting declining TV on the basis that they already had Netflix (even if the cable TV would only cost a few dollars more, and even if that came with home phone service—look it up, they really thought everyone was gonna go for “triple play” eventually!).

Bobson Dugnutt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Great points, nerdrage.

What’s going to be the endgame for cable companies? One other big disadvantage cable companies have to streaming is that they have to maintain a lot of physical plant (i.e., the actual cabling) and a lot of assets that cannot be unloaded.

Cable companies have a declining customer base, and it’s going on for so long that there’s no hope of turning things around. It’ll be in the doom loop of declining customer base -> degraded equipment -> no money to replace or rebuild equipment -> service interruptions -> declining customer base.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

What’s going to be the endgame for cable companies?

Being ISPs. Physical plant is an advantage, not a disadvantage, because their rights of way let them block potential competitors.

Co-ax is obsolescent, but unlike telephone wiring, they continue to squeeze useful life from it: 10 Gbps downstream and 6 Gbps upstream in version 4.0, with the concept of channels fading away. It’s moving toward being two big frequency blocks (upstream and downstream), with “TV channels” being internet-based services provided by set-top boxes. When they switch the “last mile” to fiber, people will hardly notice—it’ll be the same thing but faster. (And that could be decades out, whereas I’m not sure the idea of a “TV channel” will survive that long.)

Anonymous Coward says:

A couple of “pirate” streaming sites in BRICS countries have over a million subscribers and fir good reason

First, is the $15 a month for neaybe 10000.xhanneks

Seconds is they do have to obey laws like syndex, the satellite home viwet act, or any sports blackout laws or have to pay local stations like this nextstar/DirecTV bs

Because they are not in.the United States they are not subject to any American laws, the same with Britain and their blackout of premier League soccer Saturday games, as they are also not in Britain

They only have to obey their local laws. The one in Russia only has to obey Russian laws and the one in China only has to obey Chinese laws.

And $15 a month lets me get every NFL, NBA, and mlb game I want and every NCAA football gamr as well.as every cable network known to man.

My father was a big college football fan and he would have loved to get any college football game he wanted.

Also Britain cannot enforce tv licensing on British channels. If the servers are not in.britsin their laws do not apply

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