Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Comcast Says Its Disappearing Subscribers Aren't Cord Cutters

Comcast lost 275,000 cable subscribers last quarter, and has lost 622,000 in the first nine months of 2010. More evidence of “cord cutting”?

Nope, says the cable giant. It’s evidence that the economy sucks.

That’s the short version of the company’s explanation for the drop, during its earnings call this morning: It had a variety of reasons to explain the exodus of subscribers, but all of them revolved around money that their previous customers didn’t have or didn’t want to part with.

A “small number” of former Comcast subscribers did appear to be swapping out cable for a free, over-the-air signal, said Comcast Cable president Neil Smit. But based on exit interviews, he said, they don’t seem to be planning on using the Web or services like Netflix, Apple TV, Hulu, et al as a cable substitute.

On the one hand, that distinction seems to be pointless, since someone who isn’t getting cable anymore isn’t getting cable anymore. Which makes them a “cord cutter,” technically speaking.

But those customers aren’t the ones that worry cable companies and Wall Street–or excite potential disruptors and their investors: When those guys are talking about cord cutting, they’re thinking about customers using the Internet and “over the top” services to get what they want.

So we’re still stuck where we’ve been for a while: Lots of people–many of whom are the kind of people who read sites like this one–say that cord cutting is either here or inevitable. And the incumbent cable companies say they see no sign of it.

As always, I invite you to let me know why you have or haven’t cut the cord yourself in the comments below this post.

Back to Comcast’s earnings for a second: The company would like investors to note that the customers who do stick around are handing it more money than ever. The average video customer now pays Comcast an average of $130 per month, a 10 percent bump.

And while those 275,000 missing video subs are more than Wall Street expected, Comcast says that things are getting better on that front, too. It says subscriber trends started improving at the end of the third quarter, and have continued to pick up in October.

[Image credit: zappowbang]


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald