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Tipping point? Streaming subscribers outnumbered cable in 2018 for first time

In what will no doubt be remembered as a critical turning point for the cable industry, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has reported that 2018 marked the first time there were more streaming subscribers on a global basis than cable subscribers. The wide-ranging theatrical and home entertainment market environment (THEME) report, which includes data on almost every aspect of both in-home and theatrical entertainment trends, also shows that despite cable’s loss of the subscriber-count pole position, it’s still the revenue leader by a massive margin.

In 2018, on-demand subscriptions grew to 613.3 million (up by 27 percent over 2017), while cable subscriptions for the same period fell two percent, to 556 million. Those are the global numbers; in the U.S., the difference is far more stark, with on-demand subscriptions enjoying a massive lead over cable at 186.9 million versus. about 50 million.

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Cable TV might be losing ground in terms of total subscribers, but these companies are apparently getting better at squeezing more money from the subscribers they’ve kept: Revenue for the cable industry is not only higher than all other forms of in-home entertainment, it actually grew by $6.2 billion, to a total of $118 billion.

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Cable companies weren’t the only winners in 2018. It was a very good year for the entertainment industry as a whole, with increased revenues and attendance rates at movie theaters too.

From a content type point of view, TV’s new Golden Age is only getting bigger. TV shows not only account for the greatest portion of what people watched at home, but the sheer number of available shows also grew — massively so. Original scripted series available across all platforms stood at 496 in 2018, up from 389 in 2015. Almost all of that growth came from on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon.

Another fascinating insight from the report is the breakdown of the year’s top-grossing movies by the ethnicity of moviegoers. It shows that Marvel’s Black Panther achieved a remarkably diverse audience, with an almost equal proportion of White/Caucasian and Black/African-American ticket buyers. It’s an especially notable aspect of the film’s success given that the number two movie — Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War — did not attract as many Black/African-American attendees, and brought in less revenue, despite being a key chapter in Marvel’s highly successful Avengers franchise.

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If these trends continue in 2019, we can expect another terrific year for online streaming services and content, while the cable industry continues to look for ways to eke out more profits from fewer subscribers.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
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