Nearly Two-Thirds of Pay-TV Subs Now Also Have Netflix, Survey Says — But That Looks Like an Overstatement

PwC survey also finds cable and satellite subscriptions have fallen among consumers under 35

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Some consumers may be deserting cable and satellite TV for streaming services, but for many pay-TV customers, Netflix and its ilk continue to be complementary to traditional television.

Exactly how many people have both pay-TV and Netflix is not totally clear. According to a new study by consulting firm PwC, the majority of pay-TV subscribers — about 65% — claim they now have Netflix, up from 41% in 2013.

But is that really true? The figure seems improbably high: Overall in the U.S., the net number of Netflix subscribers increased 19.7% over the last 12 months, from 31.1 million in the third quarter of 2013 to 37.2 million in Q3 2014. Nielsen estimates that there are about 100.6 million pay-TV households in the United States, indicating Netflix’s penetration rate among that base should be under 40% — far less than the PwC survey’s findings.

Asked about the discrepancy, a PwC rep said that many Netflix users share accounts so they consider themselves subscribers even if they’re not the primary payer. But that would mean a really large number of shared Netflix accounts. Another potential explanation is that pay-TV customers subscribe to Netflix for a short period of time, then cancel the service. (Netflix does not report churn rate in its quarterly earnings.)

Meanwhile, the PwC survey found that overall, Amazon Prime subscriptions jumped from 18% of pay-TV households in 2013 to 32% this year, while Hulu Plus subscriptions rose from almost 8% to more than 11%. Again, it’s possible those self-reported figures are higher than actual subscription rates.

In any case, with more video options than ever, a growing number of consumers may be cutting — or shaving — the cord. Overall pay-TV subscriptions have declined among consumers under 35, the PwC study found, while it was flat for those 35-49 and up slightly among the 50-59 cohort. Among those 18-24, cable and satellite subscriptions dropped from 77% in 2013 to 71% this year. Furthermore, only 42% of pay-TV subs answered yes when asked if they saw themselves subscribing to cable 10 years from now, vs. 91% in a year from now and 61% five years from now.

For consumers, the consternation with subscription-TV service continues to center around paying for channels they don’t watch — with 41% of respondents saying they’d prefer a la carte pricing options, according to the PwC study. But TV remains popular, with 73% of viewers saying that watching TV increasingly is often as good as going to the movies.

The study also found binge-watching of TV series to be a major phenomenon, with about 50% of viewers saying they have watched an entire season of a show in one week.

The data is based on an online survey of 1,024 consumers conducted in September 2014. PwC said the survey sample is representative of the U.S. population across gender, age and income. The 2014 results were compared with a similar 1,008-person study conducted in the fall of 2013.