Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

130,000 Time Warner Cable Subscribers Go Missing. To Find Them, You Might Ask Verizon and AT&T.

It’s earnings season, which gives us yet another chance to revisit the cord-cutting is real/no it isn’t debate.

To recap: Lots of people you know, and lots of people who read sites like this one, think people are already ditching cable TV for some combination of iTunes/Netflix/Hulu and/or pirate sites, etc. But cable providers and cable networks say they don’t see any signs of it.

So onward to today’s numbers from Time Warner Cable, which show the second-biggest cable company in the U.S. losing 129,000 video subscribers — about 1 percent of the 11.9 million base.

If you’re in the “it is totally for real” camp, you can jump on this as proof of your thesis, and that’s what this Business Insider post* does, Grim Reaper art and all.

But in order to get really worked up about Time Warner’s losses, you’d have to ignore contrary data points from other video services that show a boost.

For instance, AT&T and Verizon each added about 200,000 subscribers to their pay-TV offerings in the last quarter. Presumably, many of those 400,000 subscribers were already paying for TV from another provider, so those losses have to show up somewhere.

Time Warner Cable notes that AT&T’s service is available in about 25 percent of Time Warner’s footprint, while Verizon, which it says was “aggressive” about marketing last quarter, is available in about 12 percent of Time Warner’s market.

In any case, until we get numbers from all of the pay TV providers, it’s hard to make any calls about cutting/adding in the last quarter. Comcast, the industry’s biggest provider, won’t report until February 15.

And once we do have all of this quarter’s data, we’re still just going to have this quarter’s data. As we’ve seen over the last year or so, sometimes pay TV user numbers go up, and sometimes they go down. We’ve yet to see a clear trend one way or another.

None of this will soothe some of you folks, who will tell me that you, or your friends, or someone you know has cut the cord and is loving life. That doesn’t mean that’s not the case — just that statistically, it has yet to register.

Earlier this month I tried to make an analogy between cord-cutters and vegans, but I’m not sure I hit the mark. So this time we’ll let Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt make a similar argument, in his own words, via Seeking Alpha:

I think there are — remember, the average TV in America is on for some very large number of hours a day, with 6, 7, 8 hours a day, whatever the latest number is. And this activity you’re talking about is kind of sporadic, watching no specific programs. So most people watch a lot of TV and they like these packages of linear networks. And the services we’re talking about are not, at this point, a substitute for that. Having said that, there are people who don’t watch TV very much and they’re quite satisfied with just being able to watch a few shows now and then. And we all know one of those people and I think that affects our perception of what’s really going on in terms of the mass market.

*Per my disclosure, I not only like the guys over at Business Insider, but I have a vested interest in their success.


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