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The State of Cable TV 2021

We surveyed 1,000 readers and found that in the cable vs. streaming wars, customers appear to want both.

Illustration of a person holding a newspaper with the headline "The State of Cable Report!"

The 2021 cable landscape

Nearly two years ago, we hunkered down in our homes to avoid COVID-19, taking solace in the glorious distraction of TV. You could almost hear the chorus of cut cable TV cords—or so we thought.

Last year, asked 1,000 people about their TV habits during the pandemic. We were surprised to learn that a majority of respondents didn’t cut out cable in favor of cheaper, simpler streaming TV services in this time of great uncertainty.

Streaming TV services are increasingly popular, but cable and satellite TV aren’t dying off as fast as we might’ve thought—and many of our respondents get both cable and streaming TV services instead of switching.

Who has cable?

More than two-thirds (70.4%) of respondents have some type of cable or satellite TV package. That’s still a good chunk of the TV-customer base—but traditional TV providers once enjoyed 100% of it. So streaming TV services have gobbled up a considerable percentage (29.6%) of TV customers for themselves. But our survey results don’t necessarily point to streaming TV overtaking cable. Instead, it appears that customers want both.

CTV State of Cable Question 1

Why and when cable customers cut the cord

An overwhelming number of cord-cutting respondents did the deed more than a year ago (72.97%) or within the last year (15.54%). The number-one reason, according to 73.99% of them? Price. That makes sense, since so many of us tightened our belts for the lockdown. Cable and satellite TV are so much more expensive than streaming TV services, and entertainment budgets are typically the first cuts.

CTV State of Cable Question 3

The next-highest number of respondents (15.88%) cited “other” as their reason for cutting the cord, followed by “unsatisfactory bundle savings” (7.43%) and “contracts” (2.7%).

CTV State of Cable Question 2

We can only speculate as to the reasons encompassed by “other.” But it’s surprising to see that more people didn’t say “contracts”—maybe that’s because cable and satellite TV providers continue to test no-contract plans as a way to compete with streaming TV services, which have month-to-month payments by design.

As for unsatisfactory bundle savings, that’s technically a price issue, which would bring the combined number of respondents who switched to streaming TV services due to price a whopping 81.43%.

As usual, it comes down to money. So how much did everyone save by cutting cable?

Cord-cutting savings

Nearly 80% of those surveyed claimed to save more than $30 a month by cutting the cord. Those savings are extra sexy when you consider that bundle discounts aren’t that great anymore. The average that we see at is $5–$10 a month—and some bundles have no baked-in savings whatsoever. That’s why we often recommend that our readers “bundle” a streaming TV service with a standalone internet plan from a separate provider.

CTV State of Cable Report Question 5

Incidentally, 77.13% of survey respondents bundle cable TV with internet and/or phone service. We have to wonder how much that number will drop when customers realize they could be saving more by switching to streaming TV services. That is, unless we’re missing something about the allure of cable bundles having one bill for two to three services.

CTV State of Cable question 9

Which cable company lost the most customers?

According to our survey, Spectrum lost the most (18.97%). DIRECTV (17.3%) and Xfinity (15.11%) round out the top three, with the full results as follows:

CTV State of Cable Report question 4
  • Spectrum: 18.97%
  • DIRECTV: 17.36%
  • Xfinity: 15.11%
  • DISH: 13.18%
  • Other: 10.61%
  • AT&T TV: 9.65%
  • Verizon: 6.43%
  • Cox: 5.14%
  • Suddenlink: 1.93%
  • Optimum: 1.29%
  • Astound Broadband Powered by RCN: 0.32%

We’ll just say that we’re surprised to see DIRECTV in the top three, considering that it ranked first (a statistical tie with Cox) in our Best TV Providers in Customer Satisfaction survey.

Apps: Streaming (with) cable

Of course, cable TV providers want to stop losing customers to streaming TV services. How do we know? Well, common sense—but also because almost every cable company has a mobile app that allows subscribers to stream its live channels, on-demand catalogs, and DVR recordings on the go. And these apps are proving to be popular.

Of those we surveyed, 79.55% use their provider’s mobile app. Here’s what they do with it:

  • Watch live TV: 57.67%
  • Watch on-demand TV: 25.85%
  • Watch DVR recordings: 7.95%
  • Set and manage DVR timers: 5.97%
  • Set and monitor parental controls: 2.56%
CTV State of Cable Report Question 7

But how much of this activity is actually on mobile devices? Based on the results below, 42.61% watch on mobile devices (laptops, smartphones, and tablets), while 57.39% watch on more stationary devices.

  • Smart TV: 38.21%
  • Smartphone: 27.98%
  • Tablet: 7.10%
  • Streaming device: 16.34%
  • Laptop computer: 7.53%
  • Desktop computer: 2.84%
CTV State of Cable Question 12

Streaming cable TV

In our survey on The State of Streaming, the top three cable-provider streaming apps were Xfinity Stream, Spectrum TV, and Verizon’s Fios TV Mobile. Click the links to learn why they’re at the top of the heap.

These results are interesting because they seem to imply that TV customers no longer rely on cable providers’ TV boxes and DVRs. It’s easy to see why, with smart TVs running these apps on their own and DVR service moving from hard disks to the fluffy cloud.

A change-or-die tactic like this might explain why respondents haven’t ditched cable in greater numbers. Especially since more and more cable companies are dropping their contracts to compete with streaming TV services’ flexibility and freedom.

But that might not be enough to stop streaming TV services from going all Mr. Steal Your Girl with cable’s customer base. Some cable TV companies, after all, still have contracts. And all cable providers have hidden fees—something else you don’t have to worry about with a streaming service.

But for some people, cable vs. streaming isn’t an either/or deal at all.

Cable + streaming = the new normal?

While cable still holds a commanding lead over streaming TV services, one result from our survey seems to point to the services coexisting more than you’d expect.

Of the 70.4% of respondents that still have cable TV, 90.6% also subscribe to streaming TV services—and 57.57% have two to three different streaming TV subscriptions. Since cable TV is mainly about live channels, it’s reasonable to conclude that these subscriptions are to on-demand streaming TV services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

CTV State of Cable Question 11

The average entry-level cable TV plan costs around $62 a month, while the average live TV streaming service plan is $54 a month. So cable customers who haven’t cut the cord might think that saving $8 a month isn’t worth the hassle of switching providers—or maybe they genuinely like cable’s abundant live channels, and Netflix is simply a must-have. Is this the new TV normal? Perhaps.

Full survey

Do you have a cable TV package?

  • Yes: 70.4%
  • No: 29.6%

If you don’t have cable, why did you get rid of it?

  • Price: 73.99%
  • Other: 15.88%
  • Unsatisfactory bundle savings: 7.43%
  • Contracts: 2.7%

If you don’t have cable, when did you get rid of it?

  • In the past three months: 6.08%
  • In the past six months: 5.41%
  • In the past year: 15.54%
  • More than a year ago: 72.97%

Which TV provider did you leave when you got rid of your cable package?

  • Spectrum: 18.97%
  • DIRECTV: 17.36%
  • Xfinity: 15.11%
  • DISH: 13.18%
  • Other: 10.61%
  • AT&T TV: 9.65%
  • Verizon: 6.43%
  • Cox: 5.14%
  • Suddenlink: 1.93%
  • Optimum: 1.29%
  • Astound Broadband: 0.32%

How much did you cut off your cable bill when you cut the cord?

  • $0–$10/mo.: 8.11%
  • $10–$20/mo.: 4.05%
  • $20–$30/mo.: 8.45%
  • More than $30/mo.: 79.39%

If you have cable, do you use your cable provider’s app?

  • Yes: 79.55%
  • No: 20.45%

What do you do most with your cable TV provider’s app?

  • Watch live TV: 57.67%
  • Watch on-demand TV: 25.85%
  • Watch DVR recordings: 7.95%
  • Set and manage DVR timers: 5.97%
  • Set and monitor parental controls: 2.56%

Do you bundle your cable package with another service?

  • Yes: 77.13%
  • No: 22.87%

Do you have cable as well as other streaming services?

  • Yes: 90.06%
  • No: 9.94%

If yes, how many other streaming services do you have access to?

  • 1: 10.73%
  • 2: 27.92%
  • 3: 29.65%
  • 4: 15.14%
  • 5+: 16.56%

If you use your cable provider app, which devices do you use it on?

  • Streaming device: 16.34%
  • Tablet: 7.10%
  • Phone: 27.98%
  • Smart TV: 38.21%
  • Laptop computer: 7.53%
  • Desktop computer: 2.84% 2020 surveys and contests

Last year’s COVID-19 challenges made for some interesting surveys on TV-viewing trends during lockdown, and we paid a Florida Man™ to stream a 24-hour horror movie marathon—2020 never failed to surprise.

We also gathered some excellent customer satisfaction insights into people’s contentment (or lack thereof) with their TV, internet, and streaming providers. Hint: Disney+ is coming for them all.

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