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Cord-Cutting in 2021

At first glance one might think TV viewers made a New Year’s resolution to ditch cable TV in 2021, as new data shows cable subscribers all too eager to cut the cord this year. Over the last decade, cord cutting continued at a steady rate until the global pandemic, which created a tipping point for the way we consume television. Cord cutting is accelerating among consumers, and across all age groups, who are waving goodbye to their cable TV package, and shifting to streaming, connected TV (CTV) services. (See chart).

These findings, published in The Trade Desk’s latest Future of TV report, aim to capture a better picture of the future of television. As we enter the new decade, our figures show that fewer than half of all television viewers (49 percent) still subscribe to cable. And of that group, a substantial 27 percent say they plan to cut the cord by the end of 2021. To put this figure in perspective, this means that nearly twice as many cable subscribers say they intend to cut the cord by year’s end compared to the 15 percent who reported they cancelled their subscriptions during 2020.

If we dig a little deeper into the data, we can report that 8 percent of prospective cord-cutters are in a hurry to do so within the next three months, while the rest will make this cut by the end of the year. And those who are walking away from cable are extremely unlikely to go back, according to the report.

A closer look at the age demographics among cord cutters, reveals some striking findings. While it’s no surprise to find that millennials (18 to 34-year-olds) are leading the charge — with 36 percent of this group reporting they’ll get rid of cable in 2021 — it is noteworthy that one fifth of cable subscribers over the age of 55 say they’ll also be joining this exodus toward the land of connected TV. That’s a significant uptick on the 8 percent of aspiring cord-cutters in this age group who were asked about their intentions in April 2020. In other words, the trend is accelerating across all age groups and not just so-called digital natives.

Furthermore, it would be a mistake to view this uptick as a temporary pandemic-induced blip. Eight in ten respondents said they are unlikely to subscribe again. TV viewers say a key reason for ditching the cable TV package was to save money. And now data shows that lynchpin programming that has long been the domain of cable TV — news, live events, and live sports — is increasingly being viewed on streaming platforms. That means sports fans no longer need to subscribe to 200 channels on their cable box just to watch the big game. And that’s a game-changer.

Such is the extent of this cord-cutting trend that advertisers can now reach more US households via CTV than via traditional, linear TV. And many of them are embracing the opportunity to rethink decades-old TV ad processes, such as the “upfront” ad buying model, the 30-second ad-spot, and TV targeting and measurement.

Check out the full white paper — The Future of TV Report: The CTV Tipping Point — to dig deeper into our key findings and analysis.

Damian Fowler