Americans’ New TV Habit: Subscribe. Watch. Cancel. Repeat.

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Early last year, Josh Meisel and his wife wanted to watch a new buzzy Peacock drama, “Poker Face,” starring Natasha Lyonne.

But Mr. Meisel, a scientist who lives outside Boston, did not subscribe to Peacock. He paid for half a dozen other streaming services and was reluctant to sign up for another. So he and his wife made a pact. If they weren’t watching “Poker Face” anymore after two weeks, they would cancel Peacock.

Sure enough, they lost interest and canceled. And then he realized: Why stop there?

In the weeks that followed, Mr. Meisel, who is 39, cut loose Max, Apple TV+ and Hulu. He eventually resubscribed to Hulu and Apple TV+ when there were shows the couple wanted to watch — Hulu for “The Bear,” Apple TV+ for “Slow Horses” — but canceled both again after they finished watching a new season.

And he is hardly alone.

Americans are getting increasingly impulsive about hitting the cancellation button on their streaming services. More than 29 million — about a quarter of domestic paying streaming subscribers — have canceled three or more services over the last two years, according to Antenna, a subscription research firm. And the numbers are rising fast.

The data suggests a sharp shift in consumer behavior — far from the cable era, when viewers largely stuck with a single provider, as well as the early days of the so-called streaming wars, when people kept adding services without culling or jumping around.

Among these nomadic subscribers, some are taking advantage of how easy it is, with a monthly contract and simple click of a button, to hopscotch from one service to the next. Indeed, these users can be fickle — a third of them resubscribe to the canceled service within six months, according to Antenna’s research.

“In three years, this went from a very niche behavior to an absolute mainstream part of the market,” said Jonathan Carson, the chief executive of Antenna.

The change gives consumers far more flexibility, but the implications could be significant for the major media companies, especially if this behavior becomes even more common.
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Traditional media companies like Paramount, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBCUniversal and Disney are trying to navigate the extremely bumpy road from the cable bundle (which was enormously profitable) to streaming (which is not). NBCUniversal’s Peacock, for one, lost $2.8 billion last year.

As a result, the companies slashed investments in shows — the number of scripted shows in the United States in 2023 suffered its steepest decline in at least 15 years — and are raising prices to their streaming services. (Disney+ and Hulu both raised the price of their commercial-free tiers by $3 a month last year, for instance.)

Less loyal subscribers could introduce a whole new level of complexity to their business. Last year, these “serial churners,” as Antenna calls them, accounted for roughly 40 percent of all new subscriptions and cancellations, Mr. Carson said.

The companies “clearly can’t ignore them because it’s such a big, active part of the market,” he said.

One option for slowing the churn, executives think, is to bring back some element of the cable bundle by selling streaming services together. Executives believe consumers would be less inclined to cancel a package that offered services from multiple companies.
Disney has found success by bundling Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ into one package. It also joined several other companies, including Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery, in announcing a sports streaming service scheduled to start this fall.

The services are also trying to keep subscribers hooked with “coming soon” features prominently displayed in their apps. Disney+ recently advertised a coming documentary series from National Geographic (“Secrets of the Octopus”), and Apple TV+ is teasing “Dark Matter,” a science-fiction series that comes out in May in its app.

This year, when Peacock was days away from showing the first streaming-only National Football League playoff game, it promoted a special offer to deter new subscribers from canceling: Sign up for a full year at $30, half the normal price. (And according to Antenna’s research, people who signed up for Peacock on the weekend of the game did not cancel en masse the next month; the cancellation rates were close to average.)

Though the nomadic subscribers tend to skew slightly younger, and have a slightly lower income, “this is an activity that all types of Americans are engaging in,” Mr. Carson said.
Kailyn Castro, a 32-year-old who works at a tech company and lives in Brooklyn, started piling up streaming subscriptions during the pandemic. She had lots of downtime, she said, and kept “hearing about what everybody else was watching, and I wanted to be able to watch those things as well.”

But over the last year or so, as the pandemic faded, Ms. Castro found herself back to a busy social and professional life, and began cutting most of them.

“I feel like the world was really back last year,” she said. “People were just outside more, interacting with humans more.”

Price sensitivity is also a factor. Americans with a streaming subscription are spending an average of $61 a month for four services, an increase from $48 a year ago, according to a new study by Deloitte. The increase was due to higher prices, not additional services. Nearly half the people surveyed said they would cancel their favorite streaming service if monthly prices went up another $5, the study said.

Alicia Bianchi, a 38-year old lawyer in Michigan, said she had been culling streamers over the last year, including Hulu, Paramount and Peacock, and would probably let go of Max once she was finished watching “The Regime,” the Kate Winslet HBO limited series that premiered last month. She said she was being “very mindful of spending,” more so than she was a few years ago, before inflation rose sharply.

“I’m able to turn them off so easily now, it’s like why spend the money on something that I’m not using?” she said.

Ms. Bianchi, who has two young children, will not cancel Netflix, however. “I don’t ever mess with my Netflix subscription,” she said. Netflix’s cancellation rate is much lower than those of its peers, according to Antenna.

Likewise, Mr. Meisel, the scientist who canceled several streaming services after giving up on “Poker Face,” said the Netflix subscription — as well as Amazon Prime and Disney+ — was off limits. (He also has two young children.)

He’s otherwise enjoying his newfound flexibility around the other services. After canceling Peacock, he brought it back for a short period.
Now, with a pared-down streaming subscription list, there’s a weight off his shoulders, Mr. Meisel said.

“I don’t like this new system where you have to have a million different subscriptions to watch what you want to watch,” he said. “I’m happy to cancel to punish the companies who are making me do this.”



You beat me to this. This article wonderfully describes me. Also they didn’t mention those of us who sign up for a free week & then cancel the subscription even before the week ends. As soon as I’ve finished whatever I was watching I’m out of there.
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I’m here only on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays. That’s why I’m here now.



Yeah, I've started to do this. Only a bit, but more over time. There's a sweet spot where, if a streaming service is good enough and cheap enough, it's worthwhile to just keep it all the time. But once it creeps up around $15-20 a month it's worth the effort to swap in and out and binge when you can.

The only tricky thing are the annual discounts, like with MAX or something.



At one point, I used to be subscribed to six streaming services at the same time. It wasn't worth it though and I wasn't watching them all regularly. I cancelled most of them, except for the Criterion Channel. I eventually resubscribed to Netflix and Shudder because there was one movie on each that I wanted to watch, but I will likely cancel them again soon. I find most streamers only have 1-2 movies a month (sometimes less) that I want to watch.



I have to imagine long-term they offer slight discounts for staying subscribed. Seems like the logical move to combat this.

I'm subscribed to a couple of micro-streaming services (Dropout and Nebula) that are a combined $7-8/month so it's literally not even worth the thought to turn them off or on (and I watch Dropout enough to not wanna cancel for a single month anyway).



Yeah, I've started to do this. Only a bit, but more over time. There's a sweet spot where, if a streaming service is good enough and cheap enough, it's worthwhile to just keep it all the time. But once it creeps up around $15-20 a month it's worth the effort to swap in and out and binge when you can.

The only tricky thing are the annual discounts, like with MAX or something.
This is my current list. Talk about a dearth of stuff to watch.

Hulu renewed 11/25/23. $17.99 monthly. Cancelled 1/15/24.

Max renewed 4/03/24 $15.99 monthly. Cancelled 4/10/2024.

Netflix renewed 3/1/24. $15.49 monthly. Cancelled 4/15/24.

AMC weekly free trial 3/12/24. Cancelled 3/25/24.

Appletv+ 3 free months starting 3/13/24. Need to cancel 6/12/24.

BritBox weekly free trial 3/25/24. Cancelled same day.


Pivoting, Elisabeth Moss has a new series on Hulu even though we fans have waited forever for the Handmaid’s Tale final season. Zendaya was recently asked where season 3 of Euphoria is now that we’re all committed to the show. She said she had no idea. Makes me mad when they do this to the fans.



The weird thing about how this system works IMO is that one is only locked into a month. I wonder how many executive meetings across all the streaming channels ask do we dare lock viewers into six months? Or would the viewers be ok if we locked them into two months? Probably they should have done this from the start & viewers would have accepted it.



Trouble with a capital "T"
The weird thing about how this system works IMO is that one is only locked into a month. I wonder how many executive meetings across all the streaming channels ask do we dare lock viewers into six months? Or would the viewers be ok if we locked them into two months? Probably they should have done this from the start & viewers would have accepted it.
Gawd, don't give them any ideas. They're weasely enough already.



The weird thing about how this system works IMO is that one is only locked into a month. I wonder how many executive meetings across all the streaming channels ask do we dare lock viewers into six months? Or would the viewers be ok if we locked them into two months? Probably they should have done this from the start & viewers would have accepted it.
It's easier (probably) to get folks hooked by offering a hefty discount when you pay a year in advance - it's usually a pretty good deal



It's easier (probably) to get folks hooked by offering a hefty discount when you pay a year in advance - it's usually a pretty good deal
Pay a year in advance?



Max renewed 4/03/24 $15.99 monthly. Cancelled 4/10/2024.

Astonishing to see I cancelled Max this month after only 7 days. HBO used to be epic: Band of Brothers, The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under, etc., etc. Those times are gone, I think, & it’s a damn shame.



Pay a year in advance?
Yes! I've gotten deals where the per-month cost was brought down SIGNIFICANTLY by paying a year in advance - down to like $5 a month from the normal $15 or whatever, IIRC.

So yeah, sometimes you do get really sweet deals by going with a yearly subscription.



Yes! I've gotten deals where the per-month cost was brought down SIGNIFICANTLY by paying a year in advance - down to like $5 a month from the normal $15 or whatever, IIRC.

So yeah, sometimes you do get really sweet deals by going with a yearly subscription.
But if there’s nothing to watch what’s the sense in paying even $5 a month?



But if there’s nothing to watch what’s the sense in paying even $5 a month?
Well, it goes without saying nobody in their right mind would consider a yearly subscription to a magazine they don't read, or a streamer they don't watch.

I mean, that's pretty obvious, right?



Not sure if 'muricans are so stupid or so rich to pay for streaming services.



Not sure if 'muricans are so stupid or so rich to pay for streaming services.
Movies are one of the few things in this world that you can sell - and still own. So, the business is inherently going to have a great profit potential.



Well, it goes without saying nobody in their right mind would consider a yearly subscription to a magazine they don't read, or a streamer they don't watch.

I mean, that's pretty obvious, right?
You’re the one suggesting a person buy a year’s subscription to unknown content.



Most streaming services don't have enough good stuff to justify a year's subscription. The Criterion Channel is the only one that I think is worth getting a yearly subscription for.



Most streaming services don't have enough good stuff to justify a year's subscription. The Criterion Channel is the only one that I think is worth getting a yearly subscription for.
You’re probably right.



Most streaming services don't have enough good stuff to justify a year's subscription. The Criterion Channel is the only one that I think is worth getting a yearly subscription for.
I'm a charter subscriber to CC and I love the channel dearly, but for me there are other services which have a deep enough library of catalog content that they justify a yearly subscription - if the discount is significant enough.

Paramount+ has a humongous amount of catalog titles, and Max still had quite a few, maybe not as many as they did when they were still HBOMax. For me, they are more than good enough at a reduced rate - and I can understand if other folks don't feel that way, of course (sorry if I am starting to over-explain, but in light of a certain person completely taking stuff I said out of context, it is a reasonable precaution!)