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Younger Viewers Are Far More Likely to Cut the Cord, Survey Finds

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Following the recently announced plans by HBO and CBS to distribute their over-the-top (OTT) content more aggressively, I had a thought: Is cutting the cord more pervasive, as one might expect, among younger users, or is it happening more quickly with older demographics as well?

With options including YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video—as well as illegal content obtained from P2P file-sharing services such as BitTorrent—anyone with a decent high-speed internet connection can watch any show or movie at any time. It began to appear to me that most of my friends—especially my younger friends—were exclusively watching video over the internet.

The streaming media industry largely acknowledges the rapid pace of change. Dan Ackerman of Adapt.tv talked about enhancements to future-proof TV at Streaming Media West 2013. He asserted that publishers need to “adapt or die” in order to meet the needs of their subscribers. In his vision of the future, a la carte TV channel selection will dominate. (See the keynote video.)

To help get a better gauge of the pace of cord cutting, I released a short online survey to poll my colleagues about their video purchasing and viewing habits. I received more than 250 responses.

Here are the highlights:

  • Nearly 60 percent of respondents had paid TV subscriptions (40.68 percent cable TV; 13.31 percent satellite TV; 3.42 percent IPTV via phone carrier).
  • 66 percent subscribed to Netflix, 48.29 percent subscribed to Amazon Prime/Instant Video, and 38 percent subscribed to both.
  • 8.81 percent shared someone else’s paid TV login to watch online video.
  • 45.25 percent watched the majority of their video content via internet-based services on a TV set, while 32.70 percent watched the majority of their content via broadcast TV on a TV set.
  • 27.76 percent watched 4–7 hours of content a week.
  • 44.23 percent had used BitTorrent or a similar file-sharing service to obtain video content. Among these users, the single most important reason cited for doing so was that the content was not available anywhere else (61.47 percent).

For a complete breakdown of the results and to add your own responses, visit videorx.com/surveys.

Perhaps more interestingly, paid TV subscriptions appear to vary significantly from one age group to another. Only 31 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds had them, compared to 57 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds, 61 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds, and 65 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds.

The data also confirms a shift in how people of various ages view content. Nearly 70 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds watched the majority of their video content via internet providers (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) on a TV, compared to 48 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds and 36 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds.

The use of P2P file sharing for video content follows similar trends. Younger users were more likely to find content through P2P. Two-thirds of 18- to 24-year-olds had used P2P, a number that declined to 38 percent of respondents ages 45–54.

These results probably terrify businesses that make their money delivering content to traditional TV subscribers. These results clearly indicate a shift away from using cable and satellite TV as the primary means of viewing video content.

The good news for advertisers and publishers is that older generations will likely continue to watch and pay for content as they have been—the traditional market isn’t disappearing overnight—but advertisers will need to seek out new ways to reach younger viewers who are clearly cutting the cord and opting for on-demand video delivery across delivery channels that didn’t even exist 10 years ago.

This article appears in the January/February 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Cutting the Cord? Depends on Your Age."

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