It’s time for cable and satellite TV executives to reach for the heartburn medication—again. While the number of U.S. households that pay for TV started to decline last year, new figures show how this trend is both permanent and accelerating.
The number of households paying for TV service will drop below 100 million next year as the ranks of “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers” continue to grow, according to eMarketer. This graphic shows the latest figures (I’ve circled some of the key data):
These projections show how another million or so households will ditch pay TV services each year. While this is bad news for cable and satellite giants like Comcast (CMCSA) and Dish (DISH) , the more troubling figure is related to the so-called “cord-nevers,” who are college students and other adults who have never had pay TV at all. Cable industry insiders once assured themselves that the dearth of new subscribers was tied to slow home sales, and that these cord-nevers would sign up once they settled down—but now it’s abundantly the millennial generation just don’t see the point of signing up for TV in the first place.
Here is the data framed another way: While around 15% of U.S. adults did not pay for TV in 2014, that number will climb to nearly a quarter of the population by 2019 (again courtesy of eMarketer).
Of course, the significance of this data depends to a large degree on how we define “pay TV.” Just because more people are chucking traditional cable and satellite distributors, it doesn’t mean they’ve stopped watching shows.
The eMarketer pay TV categories do not count the growing ranks of consumers signing up for Internet-based entertainment services like Netflix (NFLX) and Hulu. Such services are proving wildly popular, which has led more companies, most recently Amazon (AMZN) and YouTube, to clamor for a share of those subscriptions.
The big question is whether one of these services (or more likely a mix of them) will ever reach the sort of high prices the cable industry has been commanding for years. While Netflix might have nudged its monthly online subscription bill to $9.99, that’s a far cry from the $100-and-up packages now on offer from traditional TV companies.
To learn more about the future of TV, check out this Fortune video on Apple’s efforts: