Mike Morris, a father of three daughters in a suburb of Dallas, hasn’t had a traditional cable-TV subscription at his house since 2014. When his family visits his father-in-law on holidays, he feels good about that decision all over again.
At home, Morris’s two youngest, ages 8 and 4, only watch shows on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which don’t show commercials. But at their granddad’s house, they get a rare glimpse of broadcast channels such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. Like clockwork, after about 30 minutes of TV, they come bounding his way, begging for new toys. “Any toy that has pink on it,” Morris told me, “it’s ‘Daddy, can I have this? Daddy, can I have this?’”
Kids like Morris’s, who rarely or never see toy commercials, because they don’t watch broadcast TV at home, are part of a growing population. To be sure, they do not represent a majority of kids in the United States, but they make up a significant subgroup: Approximately one in every five U.S. households belongs to a cord-cutting family like Morris’s, according to an eMarketer report from late last year, and the same report projected that this number would rise to one in four by 2022.
Cord-cutting parents have taken note of how their kids’ childhoods differ from their own as a result. Jessica Valenti wrote in The Guardian in 2015 about realizing that her 5-year-old daughter was seeing a toy commercial for the first time in the waiting room at a pediatrician’s office. A colleague of mine mentioned to me recently that when his kids first saw toy commercials, they immediately memorized an entire ad—even the “each sold separately” disclaimer—and he spent the next few days enduring their repeated renditions of the chirpy jingle that accompanies TV ads for the surprise-doll toys known as Boxy Girls. (Given that I still remember every word of the “Wanderer”-parodying jingle for the Doodle Bear from the mid-’90s, this family’s relatively jingle-free lifestyle sounded enviable.)