What do cordcutters watch?

(This post was originally published on 4/2/2015)

Cordcutting is a growing phenomenon. The movement to ditch cable tv packages and get your entertainment fix from services like Netflix or Hulu is like a symbolic middle finger to cable companies and their ridiculous charges (among other qualms).

But what are cordcutters watching? What channels do they really care about? While browsing Reddit's r/cordcutters, which boasts more than 78,000 users, many times I find myself coming across comments like "I only care to watch network channels" or "Man, if I could get ESPN without a cable subscription I would TOTALLY cut the cord".

I got to thinking: if there was a TV package with only the channels people watched, what would it look like?

Then, a couple weeks ago I created this survey and posted it to r/cordcutters. In four days, 180 people had responded and I noticed some interesting and some not-so-surprising tidbits. 

Breakdown of total responses in each category of channels

Age groups of survey respondents

Analysis

  • 114 (63.33%) of respondents were between 25-40, which is what I expected 
  • Netflix was the overall champion at 160 responses, or 88.89% 
  • NBC was the TV champion at 124 responses, or 68.89% 
  • ESPN was the cable champion at 97 responses, or 53.89% 
  • Network channels were the most concentrated, with 4 of 6 options getting more than 60% of responses 
  • Entertainment, Sports and Network channels took up roughly half of all responses, not surprising considering there were more Entertainment and Sports channels to choose from than other categories 
  • The top 4 categories with “None” as a response were Music (83.89%), News (52.22%) and Education/Family (50% each)


So, what can be taken from all this? What would the ideal TV package look like?

I decided to take the most popular channels in each category (those that received about 30% of overall responses) and see if they were available on the popular OTT (over-the-top) services. The Verge’s guide was very helpful in this. (NOTE: I didn’t consider network channels in this analysis because most cordcutters use OTA antennas for those channels, and the prices on antennas vary.)

The top channels were: 

  • Netflix 
  • HBO 
  • Amazon Prime 
  • AMC 
  • Comedy Central 
  • FX 
  • TBS 
  • BBC America 
  • TNT 
  • CNN 
  • Food Network 
  • HGTV 
  • ESPN 
  • ESPN 2 
  • Cartoon Network 
  • Discovery


Netflix ($8.99 USD), HBO ($14.99) and Amazon Prime ($99/year or about $8.25/month) are/will be available standalone, totaling about $32.23.

AMC, TBS, TNT, CNN, Food Network, HGTV, ESPN, ESPN 2 and Cartoon Network (which comprise 9/13 of the top cable channels) are available on Sling TV’s base package for $20.

Comedy Central, FX and Discovery are available on Playstation Vue (if you live in an eligible city) for $49.99. CNN, Cartoon Network, Food Network, HGTV, TBS and TNT are also available through Vue. BBC America is not available in the services I looked into.

So, 12 of the 13 top cable channels are available OTT, but they would cost the average viewer $69.99 between Sling TV and Playstation Vue, and this is before factoring in the standalone services.

However, if the average viewer would be willing to sacrifice Comedy Central, FX and Discovery, they could get most of the top channels along with Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime for slightly more than $50/month. Considering Comedy Central and FX got more than 40% of responses each, that might be a tough sacrifice to make for many respondents. Still, many of the individual shows on these channels have episodes available on services like Hulu Plus.

This year is being touted as the year cable companies could finally break. Looking at this data, it's easy to see why that's the popular opinion. Many of the most popular channels are available without a cable package, and more and more networks are jumping into the standalone service boat with no signs of slowing down.

Pretty soon, cordcutting could be the norm, and viewers won't need to sacrifice any of their favorite channels.

Naveed Siddiqui