Over 30 Million Americans Have Never Paid for Traditional TV Service – MRI-Simmons

“Cord Nevers” now have more money to spend – but will they spend it on TV access?

NEW YORK--()--While media attention often focuses on “Cord Cutters” – adults who give up their cable or satellite TV subscriptions – new MRI-Simmons research shows that a growing number of Americans have never paid for a traditional TV connection.

The latest Cord Evolution insights reveal that roughly 31 million US consumers – 12% of the adult population – are Cord Nevers (CNs); that represents an increase over the 2017 level of 9%. With a median age of 33, the typical Cord Never’s average household income has risen by 27% over the last 2 years, from $41,500 to $52,800.

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Among Cord Nevers, 27% – about 8 million adults – say they plan to sign up for a pay-TV service in the next six months. Some 70% of these cord seekers say they will subscribe to a traditional (cable, fiber optic, or satellite) service, while 30% – 41% of 18 to 34 years olds – expect to acquire a streaming TV package, such as Hulu with Live TV, DirectTV Now, or Sling TV.

Why are millions of Cord Nevers looking to connect to pay-TV service? The reasons vary dramatically by age. (See Table 1.) The option to channel surf is a big motivator for those in the 35-to-49 and 50+ groups, while the youngest adults (18 to 34) are seeking access and the ability to watch and find shows easily.

“Young people used to say that, as soon as they got their first well-paying job, they would sign up for the full suite of traditional TV services,” said Karen Ramspacher, SVP Innovations & Insights at MRI-Simmons. “Today, there are many more options for connecting to TVideo content – so competition for these subscription dollars is fierce. As they grow in numbers and wealth, today’s Cord Nevers definitely represent an opportunity for content providers – but understanding the Nevers’ underlying motivations is essential to targeting them effectively.”

Table 1. Why Cord Nevers are likely to subscribe to a pay-TV service in the next 6 months (by age group)

      18+     18 to 34     35 to 49     50+
I want to be able to channel surf     27%*     18%






I can get a good deal on a TV package     23%     30%






It is easier to watch/find shows     21%     29%






It is the only way to watch the TV networks I want to watch     18%     16%






It has better access to shows I want to watch     18%     23%






It is worth the expense     17%     16%






I want to watch live news     17%     14%






I want to watch live programming when it airs     16%     14%






I want to have a DVR service     14%     9%






* To be read: Among Cord Nevers (ages 18+) who plan to subscribe to a traditional pay-TV service in the next 6 months, 27% cite the ability to channel surf as a reason for subscribing

MRI’s Cord Evolution research is based on roughly 24,000 in-person, in-home interviews in MRI’s Survey of the American Consumer®, asking about cord intentions. Cord Evolution research tracks levels of “cord disruption” (who is cutting, who is increasing) among 10 unique viewing groups, revealing the impact of new digital offerings on traditional cord subscriptions and linear behavior. This research measures not just what and how they are watching, but also the why’s behind their viewing and subscription choices.

About MRI-Simmons

Launched as a joint venture under GfK in 2019, MRI-Simmons combines the assets and expertise of two of the leading consumer insights providers in the US. Together, they will offer agency, media, and advertiser clients the best in research and technology with the highest quality data, the strongest strategic partnerships, the most innovative digital platforms, and intuitive, easy-to-use visual reporting.

MRI’s Survey of the American Consumer® – which has maintained MRC accreditation for over 20 years – is used in the majority of US media and marketing plans and has long been the industry standard for magazine audience ratings. Through 24,000 in-person interviews each year, MRI captures in-depth information on consumer media choices, attitudes, and consumption of products and services in nearly 600 categories.

Simmons measures American consumer psychographics, preferences, attitudes, and media behaviors by closely overlaying survey and passively measured data using advanced measurement sciences. For more than 60 years, Simmons has helped leading brands, agencies, and media companies effectively engage with consumers, providing measurement of over 200,000 consumer elements.


David Stanton
VP, MarComms
T 908 875 9844

Release Summary

While attention often focuses on “Cord Cutters,” MRI-Simmons research shows that a growing number of Americans have never paid for traditional TV.


David Stanton
VP, MarComms
T 908 875 9844