Exclusive: NTIA Survey Confirms Shift Toward Online Video

A clear majority of viewers do at least some of their video watching online rather than, or in addition to, broadcast or cable.

That is according to the analysis of 2017 numbers crunched by the Trump Administration's top communications advisory arm, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA).

"Americans increasingly are moving away from cable and satellite pay-TV services and opting to stream online video offerings, data from NTIA’s latest Internet Use Survey show," according to NTIA policy analyst Edward Carlson. "While most households still subscribe to cable or satellite television services, the survey shows the proportion of Internet users watching videos online has grown from 45 percent in 2013 to 70 percent in 2017."

He said the shift toward cord-cutting cuts across all age groups. But there is definitely a video generation gap. While 86% of internet users 15-24 watch some video online in 2017, only 40% of those 65-plus did.

NTIA gets to piggyback on the Census Bureau's monthly Current Population Survey, which it does periodically as part of its charter to keep a finger on the pulse of the internet. In 2017, it for the first time added questions specifically on subscriptions to traditional cable and satellite TV to the population survey supplement it periodically sponsors.

That survey found that 73% of U.S. households had a cable or satellite subscription. Of the remainder, 40% had dropped pay TV (were cord-cutters) and 60% cord-nevers.

Among the cord-cutters, 82% watched online video, compared with 67% of those with a cable or satellite subscription and 71% of cord-nevers. Carlson said that was an indication of how traditional TV was faring in the streaming era and NTIA would keep an eye on that trend in future surveys.

Why are the cord-cutters dropping subscription services and nevers not signing up for traditional video?

While 26% percent of viewers 15-44 in non-subscribing households cited Internet-based video services as a reason, only 15% of those 45-64 and only 8% 65-plus cited that reason, while coast and relevance were common answers across all age groups. "These results suggest that while cost and personal preferences dominate decisions about purchasing cable or satellite television services, the availability of Internet-based video services is also influential," said Carlson.

About three-fifths of households without cable or satellite had never had a pay subscription. They tended to be younger and lower-income, and were "less likely to be non-Hispanic white than those with cable." The profile of a cable household that emerged was over 50, and less likely to have children in the house.

Since 1994, NTIA has commissioned the Census Bureau to conduct the surveys on Internet use, the latest which is from November 2017. The survey was sent to 52,000 households in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The raw datasets are available on the Census Bureau Web site if others want to do their own crunching.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.