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2020 Streaming Stress Report

To cut or not to cut? To find out, Antennas Direct polled 1,200 Americans (age 18+) who watch television for at least 1-2 hours per week.


Antennas Direct, leader and pioneer in the cord-cutting category, is dedicated to consistently understanding the changing needs of consumers in the industry. With U.S. consumers asked to shelter in place due to COVID-19, media had an anticipated boom in viewership, with Nielsen finding that major U.S. crises that force consumers to stay at home can lead to an increase in TV usage by at least 60 percent.

However, when it came to the battle between streaming vs. cable, Antennas Direct wanted to understand how Americans were choosing their entertainment and how many still felt tied to a cable subscription. Did the launch of services like Quibi and Disney+ make consumers more intrigued or stressed out about cutting the cord? How many people struggle to pay for TV, because they simply aren’t aware of more affordable options?

With a history of continued research that has a direct perspective from consumers, Antennas Direct sought to uncover how dependency on television and entertainment may have changed during COVID-19 and how potential gaps in access to breaking news and entertainment may influence consumer behavior going forward.

26% 35% 39%
Wish they had cable to watch local news or network programs during the pandemic Believe they need 5 streaming services to access the same amount of content cable packages offer Would need to cut their TV services if they lost household income

Throughout this report, we’ll answer:

→ How did COVID-19 impact media consumption?                                

→ What's holding consumers back from ditching cable?                        

→ What is cable worth beyond the subscription fee?                             


Entertainment Consumption During COVID-19

TV in the Age of COVID-19

More than half of Americans say cable or streaming programming provided a temporary escape during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Value of TV Grew During the Pandemic

Outside of fulfilling general entertainment needs, TV subscribers used cable and streaming to stay informed and navigate their day-to-day during the pandemic. To ease the challenges of working remotely, one in five (19%) admit they used TV to babysit their children while they worked.

The pandemic also caused an increase in new subscriptions for streaming services, with one in three (35%) signing up for a new streaming platform during COVID-19, including one in four (27%) who previously subscribed solely to cable.

Cable also saw subscriptions increase, but to a smaller degree. While one in three (36%) wished they had a cable subscription during the pandemic, just one in ten (10%) actually signed up for cable service.

The Need for News

During the pandemic, TV was also a source of real-time information and news updates. When it came to where consumers went to get their news, the majority still looked to cable. In fact, consumers were twice as likely to look to cable news (35%) than to streaming news (16%) to stay informed.


To Cut or Not to Cut?

The Great Debate: Cable or Streaming?

27% - cite a lack of access to local or national news programs as their biggest concern around canceling cable.

Price & Access Concerns Fuel Attachments to Cable

As more streaming options appear, concerns related to price and access are driving users to hold onto cable. While access to news is a major concern, one in four (29%) cite a lack of access to TV programming as their primary concern with cutting cable and one in five (22%) cite a lack of access to live TV network events.

In fact, one in three (35%) consumers believe that they would have to subscribe to up to five streaming services to be able to access the same amount of content their cable package provides them. It’s no surprise then that the number of new streaming services available would not drive one in four (29%) to cut cable.

Cord-Cutting is Halted by Fear of the Unknown

Streaming stress is also caused by assumptions and misconceptions around cord-cutting. With one in four keeping cable to access news, it’s understandable that nearly half (42%) believe that cable subscribers are more likely to be informed on current events compared to cord-cutters. This comes from a lack of understanding that major broadcast networks can be accessed for free, without cable. In fact, a quarter (25%) of consumers were unaware that they could access broadcast networks using an antenna.

Other cable subscribers choose not to cut the cord because they don’t feel they have the needed tech skills. In fact, half (48%) believe cord cutters need to be more “tech-savvy” than cable subscribers and one in five (22%) feel more confident filing their taxes than setting up a new streaming tool.


The True Cost of Cable: What is it Worth?

What is Cable Worth?

64% - say the cost they spend on cable was worth it in order to have reliable access to live TV during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justifying the Cost of Cable

Despite costly fees and a surge in affordable alternatives, nearly one in four Americans (23%) still have a cable subscription and another one in four (27%) still subscribe to cable in addition to a streaming service.

However, cost matters to Americans. When it comes to choosing a television provider, half (50%) cite price as the major deciding factor. This is likely why two in five (44%) have signed up for a free trial of a streaming service and canceled it to avoid being charged.  Half (49%) of those who did cancel did so because they didn’t feel it was worth the money.

TV as a Luxury

Even when cable or streaming services are worth their cost, they can come with the type of price tag that makes it a luxury for most households. In fact, for two in five (39%) consumers, a loss of income would limit their ability to afford a streaming or cable subscription.  One in three (31%) who did a free trial of a service and then canceled did so because they couldn’t afford the fee.

However, consumers felt they were able to justify the cost of cable during the pandemic, with two in three (64%) saying that their cable subscription fee was worth it to have reliable access to live TV.


Conclusions & Recomendations

Ties to cable are reinforced by streaming misconceptions. It’s up to us to change that.

Cable subscribers have been overpaying for content for years. Our research has shown that too many people lack confidence that alternative - and more affordable - options to cable will provide the same reliable access to news and entertainment. We know cutting the cord can actually often provide the most dependable reception of the content people rely on, and we have long held the belief that it is up to us to educate and put an end to the cord-cutting fears and misconceptions which still exist amongst American consumers.

The COVID-19 pandemic made this undertaking even more critical, because, as our research found, Americans’ ties to cable were strengthened during the crisis as routine access to news and information trumped high monthly fees. Our report shows the financial burden of costly cable bills is weighing heavily on the average consumer, with many admitting it would be the first personal luxury to go in case of a loss of income. Access to news and entertainment shouldn’t be perceived as a luxury for Americans, but rather a basic right.



The reality is, over-the-air TV provides dependable and free programming including national and local news and major networks such as ABC, NBC, FOX, and more. As TV antenna manufacturers, it's important to us that the ability to watch TV should not be a financial burden. Most of what consumers watch, they can watch for free. With recent developments in streaming platforms and services, the rest can be completed on an as-needed basis, saving hundreds of dollars.

Our research found that so many consumers underestimate the simplicity of cord-cutting and are hanging onto their cable subscriptions because they don’t believe they’re ‘tech-savvy’ enough. This is a problem. We aim to remedy this by guiding the education process through mediums like installation instructions, tools like our transmitter locator, and resources like our cord-cutting guide, which help customers select antenna and streaming options based on how, where, and what they choose to watch on TV.

Our mission has always been to provide equal access to news and entertainment for every consumer, regardless of their financial status. Understanding the reasons why so many Americans are still overspending is central to furthering our efforts to finally change the narrative around TV entertainment consumption.


Want to find out more? Download the full report.

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