Cutting the Cord: 200 channels but only 20 worth watching?

We have come a long way from the pay-TV scenario Bruce Springsteen bemoaned in 57 Channels (And Nothin' On). But after a look at the most recent Nielsen TV viewing data you certainly can understand why consumers are crying out for slimmer pay-TV bundles.

With more than 200 channels available on their cable, satellite or telco-delivered service, viewers are actually watching, on average, only about 20 channels, according to recent research from Nielsen.

This means most of us watch fewer than 10% of the channels we are paying our cable, satellite or other provider for. The number of channels watched in your home will likely be higher, notes Nielsen's Glenn Enoch, because other adults, as well as teens and children, will watch different channels.

Cord shaving — consumers cutting back on how many TV channels they subscribe to — has led to fewer channels in homes. However, "this pattern of not watching all the channels you get is a very long-standing one," said Enoch, who is senior vice president of audience insights for Nielsen.

Back in May 2014, viewers watched 10.6% of the 197 channels they said they paid for, Nielsen's TV Audience Report found. A year later, viewers watched 9.6% of the 208 channels they got. This year, viewers also watched 9.6% of the 206 channels on their pay-TV service.

That doesn't mean customers are unhappy with their service. "There is a jump between 'I'm not watching all the channels I pay for' to 'I'm not going to pay for more channels than I watch,'" Enoch said. "What we do know is that people who have skinny bundles are lower-income than the average, so this is more about household income than viewing behavior."

But pay-TV companies have started catering to consumers with so-called "skinny" lower-priced pay-TV bundles. Dish TV began offering a $39.99 package in August, while Comcast and Verizon have lower-priced options, too. "We are experimenting," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said recently at an investor conference in New York. "We view the skinny bundles as a way to attract customers who otherwise aren’t probably in the ecosystem, and we have seen about 30% of them up-sell and buy to a fuller package after a period of time. ... It’s important that we keep experimenting and pushing."

Pay-TV companies need to experiment, for sure, because other consumer behaviors in the Nielsen report suggest traditional TV viewing by those under 35 continues to fall, says Colin Dixon, analyst and founder of nScreenMedia. "This is pretty serious for pay TV. Their customers are aging, and they aren't picking up the young like they used to," he said. "Meanwhile, the number of people opting to exist without cable continues to grow."

This all bodes well, Dixon says, for streaming video services such as Netflix and Amazon Video — and for skinny bundles.

"Cutting the Cord" is a regular column covering Net TV and ways to get it. If you have suggestions or questions, contact Mike Snider at msnider@usatoday.com. And follow him on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

USA TODAY


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