Updated on March 25, 2023
TV viewing measurement company Samba TV has released a report about current trends in US TV viewership. Two particularly prominent things stand out: one, as of the end of 2022, 52% of US households no longer have, or never subscribed to, pay TV (i.e. cable or satellite TV service). And two, only four streaming services are subscribed to by a majority of their subscribers for more than just one TV show: Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. 69% of US adults note they also plan to churn through streaming subscriptions in 2023.
The majority of US homes have ditched cable
For years, cable TV was often seen as a norm, or even exciting, for American households. For instance, the 1991 “Simpsons” episode “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” centers around the Simpsons family getting (pirated) cable TV, and it’s treated as a big deal by everyone.
Depending on who’s counting, the number of pay TV subscriptions in the US peaked either in 2000 (according to the FCC) or in 2010 (according to Variety).
While people are grumbling about rising subscription service costs, I don’t see a mass return to traditional cable TV anytime soon. Streaming’s still cheaper than what cable ran, and lacks most of the annoying fees cable companies tack on. For example, when I had cable, my cable company (Comcast) charged a $10/month fee just for high-definition TV, which is like charging for, well, color TV.
That said, people still need broadband, and that’s often through the same cable TV providers. And the cost of broadband isn’t getting any cheaper. (My broadband provider, again Comcast, just hiked my bill by $5.) Broadband also faces similar anti-competitive problems as cable TV, including restrictive limits or bans (lobbied for by commercial broadband providers) in some states against municipal broadband service.
The classic “Big 3” and Disney+ are still popular, despite the “streaming wars”
The “streaming wars” have seen literally every Tom, Dick, and Hulu launch a streaming service. Streaming services exist for everything, from Shudder (horror genre) to Boomerang (old-school Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes cartoons).
That said, there’s a limit to how many services people will pay for on an ongoing basis. Subscription churn is one advantage of streaming services—since there are no contracts, they can be canceled at any time. This makes it easy to subscribe on a short-term basis for a specific purpose, say, a favorite show. While churn is a concern for all streaming services (even Netflix), a service used by its customers for just one show is more vulnerable.
As such, Samba TV reports that as of the second half of 2022, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu are the only services that the majority of subscribers use for more than one program. The losers include HBO Max, Paramount+, and Apple TV+. I note those are still popular services. However, it seems that despite all the “streaming wars” hype, the four services most of their viewers use to watch multiple shows (and thus are most likely to keep on an ongoing basis) are… the traditional “Big 3” services (Hulu, Prime Video, Netflix), plus Disney+? For that matter, Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+ are the three most popular streaming services in the world. While Hulu is a US-only service (and thus has fewer subscribers versus the globe-spanning HBO Max and Paramount+), it’s still a very popular service stateside. (Supposedly at #3 behind Prime Video and Netflix, if going by FlixPatrol.)
As for why these “old-timer” streaming services (and Disney+) are still doing well despite stiff competition, my guesses:
- Netflix, Prime Video, and (to an extent) Hulu are “catch-all” services, even if they’ve lost content to upstarts. If budgeting for streaming services, paying for a catch-all service might be better (depending on one’s tastes) than being limited to one media conglomerate’s own material (HBO Max, Paramount+, Peacock, etc.)? Unless you’re a fan of a specific franchise (DC Comics, “Star Wars,” “Yellowstone,” etc.), it’s easy to just stick with a general-purpose choice like Netflix.
- Prime Video comes with Amazon’s other Prime features, most famously two-day shipping. It’s probably the main reason people pay for Prime; however, also getting TV shows (and Thursday Night Football) is a nice benefit.
- Hulu has been a longtime standby; until recently, it carried a variety of content from different providers. These days, while it still has some third-party content, it’s also Disney’s adult programming arm, as the home of much of the Fox library (“Family Guy,” 20th Century Fox/Studios films, etc.). Hulu has also usually been inexpensive as a service. The ad-based version costs $8/month, and often comes in deals where it’s bundled with something (Disney+, Spotify, etc.) or discounted (student accounts, Black Friday sales, etc.).
- Disney is, well, Disney, so it’s not surprising that it could break into the global Netflix-level tier in popularity. Though Disney has also gone on a content buying spree over the past two decades: Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm (“Star Wars”), and Fox.
What streaming service do you usually keep on an ongoing basis? Let everyone know in the comments.
“Comcast” by JeepersMedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)