More Than One if Five Broadband Households Have No Pay-TV Service, Study Finds

You don’t have to look far these days for news on cord-cutting. According to a report out this week from Leichtman Research Group the largest U.S. pay-TV providers lost a combined 795,000 subscribers in 2016. According to a report out last week from TiVo the share of cord-cutters who have dropped service within the previous year reached 19.8 percent in the fourth quarter, the highest ever registered, suggesting the phenomenon is accelerating.

In yet another report released this week, The Diffusion Group turned the telescope around and looked not at how many pay-TV households have dropped their service but at the number of U.S. broadband households that are going without pay-TV service. If anything, the view was even worse for the pay-TV industry.

According to TDG’s survey, 22 percent of the 100 million households that subscribe to broadband — some 22 million homes — do not have pay-TV service. That’s up from 9 percent of the 85 million broadband subscribers in 2011, or 8 million households, and up from 18 percent just since the beginning of 2016.

“Wall Street and the media are myopically focused on the quarterly drip of legacy pay-TV subscribers, which unfortunately overlooks a larger and more dangerous trend,” TDG director of research and co-founder Michael Greeson said in a statement released with the report. “As TDG noted long ago, where broadband (and broadband video) goes, legacy pay-TV subscriptions will increasingly decline. This is indeed what has transpired.”

TDG calls those 22 million households “cord nils,” which encompasses both cord-cutters (17 million) and cord-nevers (5 million). And in the view of the TDG researchers, they’re not coming back. Just 8 percent said they are moderately or highly likely to sign up for pay-TV service in the next 6 months.

As with other studies, the biggest factor driving the cord-nils out of the traditional pay-TV fold is cost, cited by 68 percent of cord-cutters and 65 percent of nevers, although an equal 68 percent of cord-cutters also cited satisfaction with the streaming services that most of them subscribe to as a factor.

Overall, 83 percent of cord-nils subscribe to one or more streaming video service, led by Netflix, at 69 percent. Notably, though, the most widely used source of TV programming among the nils, cited by 66 percent, is DVDs and Blu-ray discs, followed by streaming and over-the-air channels, at 58 percent each. The survey didn’t ask, or at least TDG didn’t report, how many cord-nil households engage in unauthorized streaming of pay-TV content, although it’s probably not zero.

 

What both reliance on DVDs and Blu-ray discs and streaming services offer cord-nil households is a measure of control — the ability to calibrate what you pay with what you’re actually watching, something the traditional pay-TV bundle was designed specifically to deny to users. How much longer the pay-TV providers can continue to deny users that control before the incoming tide of cord-nils becomes a flood is the most important question confronting the industry.

Cutting The Cord From Both Ends

Depending on whom you believe and when you start counting, cord-cutting is either slowing down or it’s accelerating.

According to a new survey by TDG, the percentage of adult broadband users who are “moderately” or “highly likely ” to cancel their pay TV service in the next six months has dropped by 20 points since last year.

“Cord cutting proclivities have held steady for several years, with approximately 7% of [adult broadband users]  pay-TV subscribers moderately or highly likely to cancel their service in the six months following the survey,” TDG director of research Michael Greeson said in a statement. “In early cable_TV_not12015, however, the number declined to 5.7%. This is the first time in five years we’ve seen significant change in these metrics.”

According to MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett, however, U.S. pay-TV providers lost 357,000 subscribers in the third quarter of 2015,. That was more than twice their losses in the same quarter last year, although it was down substantially from the 605,000 they lost in the second quarter of this year.

Take your pick. Read More »

Retransmission Discontent

Last week’s meltdown among media company stocks seems to have subsided for now, but not before wiping out $60 billion in market value. Shares of Viacom fell 17 percent between August 4 and August 11; Discovery Communications and 21st Century Fox each fell 13 percent; Disney shares dropped by 11 percent; Time Warner by nine and Comcast (NBCUniversal), CBS and Starz all fell by mid-single digits.

Media CEOs complained, and many analysts concurred, that the sell-off was overdone, and that neither the actual earnings news that triggered it nor the underlying fundamentals of the business justified such a drastic repricing. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the market overreacted to events in the short term.

FCC_buildingIn fact, the stampede out of pay-TV stocks last week felt more like the release of pent-up anxiety among investors than a reaction to any particular bit of news. It began when Disney issued a small downward revision to its earnings forecast for its ESPN unit, which it blamed on “modest subscriber losses” from cord-cutting. The adjustment was a small one, but Disney chief Bob Iger has been among the most outspoken media CEOs in arguing that cord-cutting is a limited and manageable phenomenon, and that ESPN is well-positioned to profit from changes in the pay-TV business. If even Disney couldn’t paper over the impact of cord-cutting on ESPN, investors seemed to conclude, then maybe the problem really is as bad as we feared.

Similarly, ratings woes on linear TV channels are not new. But when Viacom reported a 9 percent drop in ad revenue from its cable networks investors seemed to take it as confirmation that even well-established media brands are losing pricing power in the advertising market. Read More »

ESPN Gets Caught In Transition

Back in October, ESPN, along with Turner Sports, renewed its broadcast and digital rights deal with the National Basketball Association through 2025 for $2.3 billion, more than twice the price of the previous deal, even though the old deal still had two years to run.

With prices skyrocketing for sports rights and new 24-hour sports competitors from Fox and NBCUniversal circling hungrily for deals that would put them in the game, locking up the NBA for another decade — even at twice the price — seemed to pencil out at the time. It was the last such major deal ESPN would need to nba_espnnegotiate for several years, having recently locked up long-term deals with Major League Baseball, the NFL, the college football playoffs and four of five major college sports conferences, thus putting a cap on its major cost-driver until at least 2021.

”We believe at the end of the deal it will feel inexpensive,” ESPN president John Skipper said at the time. ”It’s hard to imagine.”

After this week, it’s even harder to imagine.

As with any asset, locking in a price when prices are rising is a good strategy. Locking in a price when returns are falling, not so much. And for ESPN, the return on pricey sports rights are starting to fall. Read More »