Pay TV Penetration Dips to 71% of TV Homes

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DURHAM, N.H.—New consumer research from the Leichtman Research Group is reporting ongoing drops in pay TV penetration, with only 71% of TV households nationwide having some form of pay-TV service in 2021. 

That marks a significant five year decline from the 82% penetration rate in 2016 and an even bigger 10 year decline from 87% in 2011. 

The declines were even worse among younger demos. In 2021 among TV households, 64% of adults aged 18-44 and 77% of those older than 45 had a pay-TV service; in contrast 77% of adults ages 18-44 and 86% of ages 45+ had a pay-TV service in 2016. 

This has also resulted in a massive change in the way video is delivered into TVs in the home. The Leichtman survey found that 37% of all TV sets in use have a traditional pay-TV providers’ set-top box – compared to 58% in 2016

“The percent of U.S. TV households with a live pay-TV service significantly declined from 82% to 71% over the past five years,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, Inc.  “The penetration of pay-TV remains lowest among younger adults and the categories that they tend to populate, including movers and renters.” 

The new report also found that:  

  • 41% of those that moved in the past year do not currently have a pay-TV service – a higher level than in previous years.
  • 35% of renters do not have a pay-TV service – compared to 25% of homeowners.
  • 30% of pay-TV non-subscribers last had a pay-TV service within the past 3 years, 36% last had a pay-TV service >3 years ago, and 34% never had a pay-TV service.
  • 54% of pay-TV non-subscribers that never had a service are ages 18-34 – while 28% of non-subscribers that formerly had pay-TV are in that age range.
  • 26% of adults agree that it is OK to use a friend’s log-in passwords to watch live TV, including 40% of ages 18-34.

These findings are part of a new LRG study, “Pay-TV in the U.S. 2021.”  

“Pay-TV in the U.S. 2021” is based on a survey of 2,000 adults aged 18+ from throughout the U.S.  The random sample of respondents was distributed and weighted to best reflect the demographic and geographic make-up of the U.S.  The survey, conducted in September-October 2021, included a sample of about 1,200 online and about 800 via telephone (including landline and cell phone calls).  The overall sample has a statistical margin of error of +/- 2.2%.  The online sample used exclusively for some questions has a statistical margin of error of +/- 2.8%.

More information about the report is available at (opens in new tab).

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.