Number of Traditional Pay TV Subscriptions in Canada Drops – for the First Time Ever

The number of Canadians who subscribe to traditional pay television services, such as cable, satellite and IPTV, appears to have dropped last year, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

That would make 2013 the first year where the number of Canadians cutting the cord exceeded the number of new TV subscribers.

While the CRTC says the conclusion is based on preliminary numbers, the broadcast regulator says that “overall growth in [pay TV] subscriptions has been slowing year by year … as some Canadians choose to opt out of the traditional system entirely.”

The number of cord cutters may be growing but the Commission says that for the majority of Canadians online video and traditional TV “viewing complement rather than replace each other.”

But that could change, the CRTC says several factors are pushing Canadians away from traditional TV including the high cost, growing preference for on-demand services and a lack of choice over which channels are included in a TV subscription package. 

In total, 14 per cent of Canadians don’t subscribe to any traditional TV services or have an antenna, according to a survey commissioned by the CRTC and conducted by Harris/Decima.

While that might not be a huge number, it does suggest that Canadians are dropping their traditional TV services at a rapidly increasing pace.

A poll released just over a year ago by the Media Technology Monitor found that only eight per cent of Canadians didn’t subscribe to any form of pay TV. That poll itself showed rapid growth in cord cutting. A 2007 MTM poll found that only four per cent of Canadians didn’t subscribe to any form of pay TV.

Part of the increasing growth in cord cutting might be the growth of so-called “cord nevers,” young people who have never subscribed to any form of pay TV.

Certainly, younger Canadians are the least likely to subscribe to pay TV.

Of Canadians aged 18 to 34, 20 per cent have no pay TV subscriptions or an antenna, that’s compared with only 10 per cent over age 55. Canadians 35 to 54 fall almost exactly in the middle, in that category 14 per cent have no pay TV subscriptions.

The survey also makes it clear that on-demand internet services, like Netflix, are starting to cut into traditional TV services, even if they aren’t yet replacing them across the board.

While 39 per cent of all survey respondents said they watch TV programs through Netflix or a similar service, 62 per cent of respondents between 18 and 34 do. That’s compared to 18 per cent of Canadians over 55.

Of those people who don’t subscribe to traditional TV services of have an antenna, a full 50 per cent say they watch TV through services like Netflix.

Most people, 65 per cent, who use those services watch on their computers. 43 per cent say they sometimes plug their computers into a TV, while 35 per cent use a game console.

A full 25 per cent watch TV on their smart phones. That’s higher among Canadians 18 to 34, 37 per cent of them use a smart phone to watch Netflix or similar services.

But it might too early to write traditional TV off completely; 81 per cent of people who don’t subscribe to pay TV services (including those who have an antenna) say they would consider subscribing if some changes were made. Lower prices could make 71 per cent change their minds while 61 per cent said more choice would be a factor (the survey doesn’t break down how much overlap there was between the two responses).