So far, the numbers seem to be on the side of doubters. Keeping matters in perspective, Comcast Corp., lost 442,000 video subscribers in the first nine months of 2011, fewer than in the same period last year. But Comcast also has about 22.4 million video customers and 49.4 million accounts if you include buyers of Comcast voice and high-speed broadband products.
Time Warner Cable Inc. lost 319,000 over the same period, according to the Wall Street Journal. Losing cable customers But at the end of the third quarter of 2011, Time Warner Cable had 11.7 million video customers and 26.2 milliion buyers of its video, voice or broadband products.
Also, losses at cable companies are mostly defections of customers to rival satellite or telco providers, rather than outright defections from the ranks of video service providers. So the actual amount of abandonment arguably remains fairly low.
There seems to be wider agreement about what might happen in the future, namely much-greater use of various over the top channels, but the amount of revenue substitution and timing of any such changes also are debatable.
It’s just impressionistic, but during the Christmas holidays I had a chance to chat with siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews about their own use of mobile, TV and tablets. Tablets and iPhone 4S were the “hot” products, no surprise there.
TV service was a bit of a surprise. There is a significant amount of “never bought it” activity even among the boomer generation, and “never bought it” is the norm for Millennials.
To be fair, that would be expected for “in college” Millennials. But excluding those cases, there was more “used to have it” and “never bought it” activity among even the boomer generation.
On a small sample, even a few responses can skew results, so one shouldn’t make too much of attitudes and behavior on a small and non-scientific sample.
But there was some outright churn that has not been in the form of a switch to a competitive video provider. The issue seems to be the value proposition.
Cable TV providers are acknowledging the need for less-costly video packages, in the form of more-affordable tiers of service. But that doesn’t yet seem to be working for those admittedly few people I talked to. The value-price relationship hasn’t changed enough to change behavior.
“If I hear any more about cord-cutters or cord-nevers or any other fictitious demographic, I am going to die,” says Ashkan Karbasfrooshan, founder and CEO of WatchMojo.
Yes, fewer people will “need” cable and without a doubt, one day, the cable industry as we know it will have to change, he says.
Right now, you still need cable to watch news, sports, most decent programming, he argues. How about we don’t mention the terms “cord cutting” until a cable company issues a material earnings hit as a direct result of the “cord cutting” phenomenon, he argues. No serious “cord cutting”?
But that isn’t an unchallenged view. The cable business is going to go the way of the wireline telephone business, former Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg said in 2010. In other words, subscription TV is a product that has reached the peak of its product life cycle, and will start to see declining end user demand.
Seidenberg says he doesn’t believe demand for multichannel video entertainment is going away immediately. But it will, he said.
“We take the over the top issue with video very seriously,” he said. “I think cable has some life left in its model…but that it is going to get disintermediated over the next several years.” Cord cutting will happen
Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen is another video executive, who is trying to figure out how to keep pay TV subscribers who are increasingly watching over-the-top video.
While there’s still some debate over how many users are ditching pay TV in lieu of cheaper online options, Ergen has argued that there’s a bigger macro trend developing, with young people choosing to forgo pay TV subscriptions altogether. Many call this “cord avoidance,” rather than cord cutting.
“Young people who move to an apartment or get a house for the first time don’t subscribe to any MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor) and they just get their network programming from Hulu and they get Netflix,” Ergen has said. “As an industry where people pay between $70 and $92 a month, that’s a lot of money to a young person today who is getting their first job when they can go out and watch Hulu for free and Netflix for $7.99. So it’s a threat.”