Fed up with your cable TV? Tired of paying for an expensive satellite package you barely use? You're not alone: Up to 15 percent of Americans have cut the cord, joining the 9 percent who have never had a cable or satellite TV subscription.
Altogether, that's roughly a quarter of the country that can be called "cord-cutters" or "cord-nevers," according to the Pew Research Center, which published a fresh survey of consumer patterns Monday.
Buried in those results, however, is one statistic that sheds some important new light on the future of television: A huge share of cord-cutters don't even have home broadband.
Let's pull back for a second. Overall, Pew's study on cord-cutting tracks closely with reports by business analysts. From telecom companies to cable firms to satellite providers, the pay-TV industry as a whole is seeing an exodus of TV customers.
— Jan Dawson (@jandawson) November 10, 2015
Where are all these people going? They're turning to streaming services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.
Critics of cord-cutting say that the tactic may not save you much money in the end. And they could have a point. In order to watch those streaming TV services, you still have to pay for a broadband subscription. You can't get to Hulu without Internet, after all. So even if you've told Verizon you no longer want a TV+Internet bundle, you're still paying for standalone broadband, which can be priced even higher than your original bundle. Then on top of that, you have to pay individual subscription fees to services like HBO Now, CBS All Access and others on an a la carte basis so that you can get the channels you want. Considering many of these apps cost upwards of $10 a month, that all adds up pretty quickly.
But hang on — what if you could eliminate that home Internet subscription entirely and still watch your shows online? All of a sudden you get rid of a bill of, say, $100 or more per month (this amount is fairly close to what my household pays for standalone Internet service here in Washington). Would you do it?
It appears that some already are. Only 6 in 10 cord-cutters still subscribe to home broadband service — such as DSL, cable Internet or fiber — at all, the Pew survey shows. The rest rely primarily on their cellular devices to stream shows and movies.
"Those without pay TV — and cord-cutters especially — rely on a different mix… a mix that emphasizes smartphones over a home broadband subscription," the report reads.
This finding holds potential strategic significance for companies that offer A) pay-TV and B) home Internet, but not C) cellular data.
Take Comcast, for example. It offers subscription TV and home broadband — but if you want to surf Comcast Internet outside the home, you're limited to its network of WiFi hotspots. Compare that to, say, AT&T, which operates a national cellular data network that lets you surf from the middle of the freeway, on a boat or various other random places.
The fact that some Americans are forgoing home broadband entirely as part of the cord-cutting process poses a big problem for Comcast and others in its position. It's not just that some customers could move from Comcast's TV bundle to Comcast's standalone Internet plan. It's that they could abandon Comcast entirely.
Sure, a consumer who streams "Orphan Black" all day on their smartphone might wind up paying for that usage in terms of a bigger mobile data package or pricey overage fees. But with new offerings such as T-Mobile's Binge On — which lets you stream as much Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Now as you want without drawing from your monthly data plan — cellular carriers are poised to take advantage of the trend toward mobile cord-cutting in a tremendous way.