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Illustration by Nick DeSantis / Getty / The Current

‘The dam is going to break:’ Consumers are ditching cable faster than expected

Illustration by Nick DeSantis / Getty / The Current

Live sports streaming is transforming the overall fan experience

A new year, a new outlook.

Fresh figures show that 54 percent of Americans have never or no longer subscribe to cable TV, according to a December 2021 survey conducted by YouGov and The Trade Desk, further suggesting that the shift toward streaming content is only gaining momentum, up from 45 percent in May 2021. And when it comes to the 18 to 34-year-old demographic, that figure rises from 56 percent from the middle of last year to 63 percent today.

For the TV ecosystem, this is a significant threshold because for the first time it means more than half of American TV viewers are finding new ways to access content, Diana Horowitz, the senior VP of advertising sales at fuboTV, tells The Current. “I use the analogy of water running faster and faster, eventually the dam is going to break.”

One key factor giving this cascade momentum: Cable TV no longer has a lock on live sports, as more Americans than ever seek new ways to watch their favorite teams. According to the new figures, only 36 percent identify cable or satellite TV as their primary method of watching sports, which means a good portion of Americans (22 percent) are primarily watching via ad-supported streaming and social media.

As more and more leagues and sports take to streaming, it’s easier than ever for fans to engage with the content in more immersive and interactive ways. The recent data from YouGov and The Trade Desk paints a picture of many sports fans checking scores online (with 45 percent) saying they very or somewhat often do so), looking up information on teams and players (39 percent), betting on the game (16 percent), and participating in fantasy sports (17 percent) — in other words highly engaged fans — 43 percent of whom say they also watch commercials. The cliché image of the sports fan as a passive couch potato does not align with the picture the survey presents.

“How people watch is changing,” says Horowitz. “They’re watching the game on the big TV screen and at the same time, they want to participate.” To facilitate this, fuboTV is embracing the idea of the dynamic sports viewer toggling between games and activities and commercials in strategic ways, with the aim of creating “a new category of interactive television around these capabilities.”

FuboTV has courted a sports-centric viewership, of whom 90 percent are watching live. Last year the company launched integrated free-to-play games and a feature called FanView to monitor stats and scores into live soccer matches. According to company figures, viewers who participated in the gaming contests in September 2021 spent 57 percent more time watching the games than non-participants. Another feature, Multiview, which is available on Apple TV, allows viewers to watch four live channels on one screen.

For advertisers, interactive features like these — especially on sports streaming platforms — spell opportunity. “So once you can watch television in this manner, bringing in all these capabilities of addressable targeting, audience recommendation and interactivity, we’re going to see a big year for CTV and overall for this new way of interacting with content,” says Horowitz.

Looking ahead to the year in sports, fans are expressing a desire to watch both domestic and international sports through streaming, apps, and social media. According to the YouGov data, of the 42 percent of fans who say they’ll watch the Super Bowl, 38 percent will watch the Big Game via digital, streaming methods: 26 percent of respondents citing streaming services among their methods of watching and 19 percent saying they’ll watch via apps (such as ESPN, NFL Game Pass), social media platforms (Twitter, Twitch, YouTube), and websites (ESPN.com, MLB.com etc.) For those in the 18 to 34 year-old range, 44 percent say they’ll watch the game via streaming services.

Similarly, of the 30 percent who say they’ll watch the Winter Olympics, 31 percent will be doing so through streaming services. Even more striking, in the 18 to 34 age range, 47 percent will be watching via streaming services. And when it comes to the World Cup, the percentage of viewers who intend to watch games via streaming services rises to 40 percent, with almost half (47 percent) of the 18 to 34-year-old fans also opting for this method of watching the soccer fest.

Methodology

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2670 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st - 23rd December 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).


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