More Americans Joining ‘Cord-Never’ Ranks

But some consumers buck trend, turning to traditional pay TV services
A woman hold a TV remote

Many Americans are grappling with whether to “cut the cord” to often-pricey cable and satellite television services in favor of using streaming services for entertainment. But new research shows that a growing number of consumers have never paid for traditional cable or satellite TV in the first place.

Research firm MRI-Simmons interviewed approximately 24,000 American consumers as part of its annual media survey, including questions on attitudes toward traditional television service and whether consumers had cut the cord. MRI-Simmons defined “traditional services” as cable, fiber-optic or satellite plans.

Among their findings: Approximately 31 million Americans, or 12% of the adult population, are “cord-nevers"—those who have never spent money on a traditional service. That percentage has grown significantly in just the past two years, with just 9% of American adults identifying as cord-nevers in the 2017 survey.

The research also shed some light on the type of person that’s likely to fall into the cord-never category:

  • Cord-nevers tend to be young, with a median age of 33
  • The average household income of a cord-never is $52,800, up 27% from $41,500 in 2017

Most cord-nevers aren’t looking to change their television habits in the near future. After all, it’s hard to miss what you’ve never had. In fact, only 27% of this group said they planned to add a pay TV service in the next six months.

However, those who did plan to join the ranks of traditional pay-TV service subscribers had varying reasons for doing so.

A large majority of those intending to buy some kind of entertainment service—70%—said they planned to subscribe to traditional pay TV, with the remaining 30% planning to sign up for a streaming television package like DirectTV now, Sling TV or Hulu with Live TV.

Millennials and Generation Z were more likely to favor the streaming packages when signing up for an entertainment service: 41% of 18- to 34-year-olds intending to subscribe to some kind of pay TV service within the next six months said they would choose a streaming option.

As for why cord-nevers were picking a traditional service, 27% said they want to channel surf, 23% said they could get a good deal on a TV package, and 21% believed it would be easier to watch and find shows. However, the reasons for going the traditional service route varied greatly among generations:

Among the reasons that cord-nevers 50 years old or older gave for switching to pay TV services were:

  • Wanting to watch their favorite networks
  • Being able to channel surf

For cord-nevers between 35 and 49, the top reasons were:

  • Access to a DVR service
  • Being able to watch live news
  • Being able to channel surf

Top reasons for cord-nevers between 18 and 34 to change to traditional service were:

  • Making it easier to find and watch shows
  • Availability of a good deal on a TV service package
  • Better access to shows they want to watch

A number of factors likely go into your entertainment choices, such as your interests, your habits and your budget. Many consumers are finding that cutting the cord to traditional pay TV services can save them money, while still allowing access to favorite shows without paying for channels they don’t watch.

On the other hand, the MRI-Simmons survey shows that traditional entertainment services also have their benefits over no-cord streaming. If you’re on the fence between pay TV and streaming options, check out our guide to cord cutting to see what’s available and whether it’s the right decision for you.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

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