TV Ad Spending to Shrink 10 Percent by 2021 as Cord-Cutting Accelerates, Study Says

Josh Tulman

Research firm eMarketer expects the number of cord-cutters in the U.S. to grow to 22.2 million this year, an increase of 33 percent.

There will be more than 22 million cord-cutters by the end of the year, according to a new study from eMarketer.

The research firm says that the number of people who are ditching cable subscriptions is growing so rapidly that it expects television ad spending to be lower than previously estimated.

This year, eMarketer expects TV ad spending to grow by less than 1 percent to $71.65 billion in 2017, down from the $72.72 billion it predicted during the first quarter of the year. That number won't grow much bigger over the next few years either, with eMarketer estimating total TV ad spending of $74.17 billion in 2021.

Cord-cutting is the culprit for the weakening of the TV market. People who unsubscribe to cable packages in favor of over-the-top streaming services will grow to 22.2 million this year, up 33 percent from 2016. By 2021, the number of cord-cutters in the U.S. is expected to grow to 40.1 million.

"Last year, even the Olympics and presidential elections could not prevent younger audiences from abandoning pay TV," said eMarketer senior forecasting analyst Chris Bendtsen.

Meanwhile, the number of people who have never subscribed to cable — called cord-nevers — is expected to reach 32.5 million this year and grow to 41 million by 2021.

"The acceleration of cord-cutting is the result of several factors," said eMarketer principal analyst Paul Verna. "First, traditional pay TV operators are increasingly developing streaming platforms, such as Dish Network's Sling TV. Second, networks such as HBO and ESPN have launched standalone subscription services that allow users to tap those channels without a cable subscription. And third, digital players like Hulu and YouTube are now delivering live TV channels over the internet at reasonable prices — including sports properties that were previously available only through traditional distribution."

As cord-cutting has increased, time spent watching television has decreased. EMarketer says that the average time spent watching TV by adults in the U.S. this year will drop 3.1 percent to three hours and 58 minutes. Digital video consumption, however, will grow 9.3 percent to one hour and 17 minutes.

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