Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Stalking the Elusive Cord-Cutter: Pay TV Grew Last Quarter (Again)

Web video is awesome because it gives you so many great viewing choices, without having to pay for TV.

So why did the number of pay-TV subscribers increase in just the last three months?

They didn’t grow much — a modest 422,000 subscribers, for a very modest 0.2 percent growth rate — but they still grew.

Those numbers come from Bernstein Research’s Craig Moffett, a longtime skeptic that “cord-cutting” is a real and pervasive problem for the cable guys (at least for now). It’s not the first time he’s shown evidence of barely-there growth for cable TV — last quarter, for instance, he gathered similar numbers.

But his numbers do conflict with other reports that show evidence of cord-cutting. Earlier this month, for instance, Nielsen said that pay-TV subscribers had shrunk by 1.5 million in 2011.

The easiest way to reconcile Moffett’s numbers with other reports is to note that almost all of the analyst’s data comes from the publicly traded pay-TV providers themselves — like Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon — in the reports they offer up to shareholders. Most of the other stuff you’re seeing comes from polls and surveys.

Here’s his data. You’ll need to click the image to enlarge it:

But what about all of you folks who tell me, over and over, that you’ve ditched cable for some kind of combo of Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, or even pirate streams? Surely I’ll hear from some of you again, just as soon as I publish this.

And I believe you folks, too. I can certainly imagine many scenarios where tech-savvy people — and even not-that-tech-savvy people — are able to satisfy their video urges without paying for a TV subscription. But my operating theory, for now, remains my vegan analogy: “They’re real, and they’re out there. They’re particularly notable in certain places like New York, the Bay Area and college towns. And they over-index at certain Web gathering places, like this one. But McDonald’s sales are still chugging along.”


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