A new survey on how consumers view the future of television highlights some of the conflicting impulses surrounding the cord-cutting debate, with a number of viewers both supporting the idea of a la carte offerings to reduce costs and complaining about some of the problems facing would-be cord cutters, including the difficulty of maintaining multiple subscriptions.
The survey also highlighted the widespread perception among consumers that major changes are just around the corner for multichannel TV. "While only 25% of consumers think that traditional TV service subscribers are in the minority today, 53% think that those who subscribe to this model will be in the minority in 5 years," the study found.
The new study, "TV Re-Packaged: How Viewers See the Future of the Medium," from the MarketCast research and consulting firm, generally found that TV viewers are looking to "maximize control, minimize cost and streamline the TV viewing and subscription experience" but found a great deal of confusion over how those goals might be achieved.
"What started out as a study about cord-cutting led us down a journey into evolving consumer preferences and the relationship viewers have with their TV service providers," said MarketCast CEO Henry Shapiro in a statement. "All of these dynamics are complicated by the availability of programming choices and consumption mechanisms that didn’t even exist a few years ago. Consumers want to have their cake and eat it too. But they also want that cake to be low cost and to have no calories."
One notable finding was that when thinking about the ideal package of television services, a la carte programming is the most desired feature, second only to low cost. "In an ideal world, consumers would have total access to all content, but pick and choose (and pay for) only the programming they want," the study said.
But the survey, which was conducted online among 1,200 American TV viewers ages 18-49, also found that consumers disliked the idea of having to subscribe to multiple services.
Just more than half of "Cord-Cutters" – those who don’t subscribe to traditional multichannel TV services — say they stopped their subscription because they didn’t want to pay for channels they don’t watch. But the survey also found that their biggest frustration with over-the-top services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant was the problem of having to manage multiple subscriptions.
That problem was also "the number one reason why cord-connected consumers stick with their existing services, despite their being plenty vocal about other problems with their provider," the study found.
In addition, "around four in 10 of those who currently subscribe to a traditional service say that they are 'extremely' or 'very likely' to cancel in the future," the study found. "However, the near-term threat to traditional providers is much less severe. Seven in 10 of these 'Cord Considerers' admit that their bundled service package (for example, with Internet or telephone service) remains a major tether to their existing provider."
Consumers also expressed worries about the lack of programming available from over-the-top services and around 60% of Cord Considerers admitted that "they simply lack the conviction to follow through."
The study also found that "only 18% of TV viewers value live sports access more than other features, but for this small group, sports trumps everything else – including the desire to pay a low monthly subscription cost."
Sports programming is often cited as one of the main reasons for the high cost of multichannel programming.
Looking forward the study found that on demand content and being able to view programing when they wanted it was "nearly twice as important as TV anywhere" service that would allow them to view the programming on multiple devices."
Standalone premium services like HBO Go might convince more consumers to cut the cord, however. About "27% of premium TV service subscribers who are considering cutting the cord say that they would 'definitely' do so and just subscribe to a standalone premium service if they could," the study says.
But only a small number of those who had already cut the cord (about 12%) say they would "definitely" subscribe to a new standalone service that allows them to access premium channel content like HBO Go.
Finally the survey found that "compared to other groups, cord cutters demonstrate the highest average annual consumption for paid media" and "are spending more on television episodes and entire seasons via purchases and rentals of DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and digital downloads."
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