The subscription model is a fixture of modern economies, with streaming, meal-boxes and gym memberships amongst the services that have – to take just one metric – tripled global Google search interest in the term over the past decade.
More subscriptions, however, also means more churn – often expressed online through mentions of cancelled subscriptions or direct debits. And this has only been amplified by the cost of living crisis, which has compelled audiences to create hierarchies of need and so re-evaluate their relationships with services.
Looking at the shape of conversation over the past few years, we see a succession of peaks in volume and interest, usually taking place in summer and linked to cultural moments. This year, though, the economic context has caused an anomalous winter peak – with the potential for it to grow far larger still.
Excluding a social movement that came about in August 2019 following the cancellation of television series The OA, mentions of cancelled subscriptions have already exceeded recent years. In fact, the only comparable month to November 2022 is July 2020, which saw many countries relax lockdown rules, leading to instantaneous changes in consumption habits and behaviors.
Using Pulsar TRAC
to map conversations as they take place across Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, News, Podcasts and numerous other sources, we looked to first establish what
category of service audiences talked about cancelling.
We can also break this down further, by looking at the top brands within the video, music, food and publication categories.
Please use the arrows to toggle between the different visualisations.
This then leads on to the ‘why’. Or rather, the degree to which the cost of living crisis, and intensified focus on pursestrings, guides consumer action compared to other factors, like changes to service.
Price emerges as the single greatest factor. Within that, we also see increasing numbers reporting that perceived value is a lesser consideration next to simply not being able to afford the subscription in question.
Viewed in relation to one another, trends emerge between reasons for cancellation and categories of service.
On the one hand, the single largest strand runs between Changes to Service and Video. The reason? Series with strong fandoms being cancelled, contentious output being broadcast, and longstanding discontent with the quality or character of the service in question.
Conversely, each subscription category can also be linked to motivations predicated on price and value. The Cost of Living appears the single largest contributor to cancelled subscriptions involving food, for instance.
Having established the topics driving discussion, we can also turn our lens onto who is sharing their experiences of subscription cancellation – and therefore helping drive public perception and narratives around the topic.
Political affiliation emerges as the single greatest distinguishing factor. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, the cancelled subscriptions conversation reaches across multiple industries and sectors, and political affiliation remains a constant throughout. Secondly, the cost of living crisis that has driven this intensification of conversation is inherently political. And thirdly, cancelling subscriptions (and publicising the fact) has emerged as a key means of expressing discontent with the position of various newspapers, streaming services, and even political parties (particularly in the UK).
So how are these common affinities and behaviors reflected in the types of service spoken about?
For one thing, US Hip Hop Fans (outliers here for being apolitical), over-index for mentions of the gym alongside cancellation terms. This conversation incorporates a mix of viral, largely humorous posts, publicly stated (and therefore accountable) fitness goals, and posts touching on the relative value of the gym, set against other routes to fitness.
Video services, meanwhile, are well represented across each community, with issues like value for money and substandard programming popular topics across political and geographic lines. Instead, the disparities occur when we look at the services being spoken about: UK Progressives tend to talk about Netflix, for instance, while Hip Hop Fans focus on Hulu, and MSNBC Democrats distribute their conversation evenly across platforms.
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