NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- There are more than 84 million paid television subscribers in the U.S., with Comcast ( CMCSA) leading the pack with almost 22 million, followed by DirecTV ( DTV) with about 20 million, according to Multimedia Research Group. But are all those cable and satellite TV customers actually happy with their service? Or is the day coming soon when many bolt the paid television subscription model in favor of online programming? The answers are "yes" and "yes." That exodus may have started. Almost half of U.S. adults believe cable TV is a complete waste of time, according to a study on paid television subscribers from CouponCabin.com, an online retailer discount provider. Despite the 45% of Americans complaining, 81% of the U.S. adult population subscribe to paid subscription television services.
The survey, conducted with the help of Harris Interactive, interviewed 2,046 U.S. adults. Trends almost always start with the young (think the iPod and Facebook ( FB) ), which suggests trouble for cable and satellite TV companies. According to the survey, 15% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 say they have never had a paid TV subscription, compared with 5% of the rest of the adult population. What could eventually drive television viewers from the paid TV model for good are higher prices. The CouponCabin.com survey reports that 31% of the U.S. population faces a monthly cable bill of $100 or more -- a monthly bill their parents and grandparents never faced. "Despite the big bills that arrive month after month for TV services, most Americans continue to subscribe," says Jackie Warrick, senior savings adviser at CouponCabin.com. "In fact, 15% of cable subscribers we surveyed said they would never consider dropping cable TV services." "As more viewing options arise at lower price points, though, it's likely more consumers will pull the plug," she says. One life preserver for the paid TV sector is sports programming. Evidently, fans can't go without Monday Night Football, or watching the Masters or Kentucky Derby in high-definition. CouponCabin.com says that 43% of cable subscribers said they won't drop their subscription "because they can't live without sports programming."
But as more and more professional and college sports packages are showing up online and more viewing options become available in high-resolution on computers, tablets, and mobile devices, even sports fans may decide to give up those fat cable bills to watch the big game online. The ball is rolling in that direction. Netflix ( NFLX), for example, is already unbundling its cable ties and offering new episodes of shows such as Arrested Development directly to its customers. If online or direct television services such as Netflix or Hulu could provide a worthy alternative, 56% of U.S. adults said they'd give up their paid TV subscription packages -- 55-inch plasma TV or not. That should get the attention of cable and satellite providers, although what the paid TV industry is going to do about any potential exodus isn't clear. What is clear is the TV picture is changing, and not in the favor of the Comcast's and DirecTV's of the world.