TiVo, eMarketer studies point to widening age gap among pay-TV subscribers

TiVo's study looked at pay-TV loyalists vs. newbies. (TiVo)

A new study from TiVo has thrown more light on the widening pay TV age gap, indicating that millennials are not engaging with pay-TV services. The news comes amid renewed fears around cord cutting, sparked by eMarketer’s recent revelation that cord cutting in the U.S. will have reached 22 million by the end of the year, and Comcast’s announcement that it expects to lose 150,000 pay TV subs this quarter.

The TiVo study, based on online surveys of some 2,500 US consumers, found that loyal pay TV subscribers are aging. “Tenured” pay TV subs who have subscribed to pay-TV services for at least four years are “much more likely to be baby boomers instead of millennials,” the report found; and among consumers who have had pay TV for four or more years, 51% are boomers, while only 11% are millennials.

And while the study didn’t look at how many millennials signed up for pay TV, it did look at how loyal new pay-TV subscribers are: 1 in 4 respondents who have subscribed to pay TV for less than a year said they were “extremely likely” to cut the cord. In total, 55% of pay TV respondents were considered tenured subscribers, meaning that 45% of the pay TV subscriber pool are relatively new subscribers.

“Service providers must focus on delivering entertainment experiences that are compelling,” said Paul Stathacopoulos, vice president of strategy and research at TiVo. He said pay-TV providers should focus on technology innovation to help boost retention, “while attracting young consumers by adapting the TV experience to include a wide array of internet video services and viewing devices.”

The survey only hinted at some of the reasons consumers are engaging in cord cutting and cord shaving. It found that 50% of all pay TV subscribers expressed frustration over how hard it is to find something to watch on pay TV, and 26% said they’d be willing to pay more for a service that simplified video discovery across all the services they subscribe to.

“Without a shift or focus on innovating the way consumers connect to entertainment, hyperfragmentation will continue to be a barrier, driving consumer frustration and impacting how the industry captures the entertainment wallet share,” Stathacopoulos said. “As new, shiny OTT services and streaming devices continue to proliferate in the market and compete for consumer attention, there is considerable risk that younger generations may come to view pay TV as an antiquated service that doesn’t play a role in their daily lives.”

That conclusion echoes findings from eMarketer’s study. eMarketer estimates the number of U.S. pay TV viewers ages 55 and older will continue to rise through 2021, while the share of younger pay-TV subs will decline. The number of cord nevers—a term used for typically millennial consumers who have never subscribed to pay TV—to grow 5.8% this year to reach 34.4 million, eMarketer said.

“Younger audiences continue to switch to either exclusively watching [over-the-top] video or watching them in combination with free-TV options,” said eMarketer senior forecasting analyst Chris Bendtsen. “Last year, even the Olympics and presidential elections could not prevent younger audiences from abandoning pay TV.”

Neither eMarketer nor TiVo counted subscribers in the growing field of streaming pay TV services, such as Dish Network’s Sling TV or AT&T’s DirecTV Now, in their respective studies.