Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Cord-Keeping: Pay TV Shrinks for the Quarter, Stays Steady for the Year

What with the crazy weather and Nate Silver’s ascension to geek heaven and everything else, not a surprise that we didn’t get to this yesterday. But, for the record: The pay-TV business lost 127,000 subscribers last quarter.

So, once again: Does that mean people really are ditching Comcast, Verizon and Dish, etc., in favor of Netflix, iTunes and Hulu?

And, once again: Maybe. But you can’t prove that based on last quarter’s numbers.

As we’ve pointed out before, there’s a seasonal cycle to the pay-TV business: The cable, telco and satellite guys usually add a bunch of subscribers in Q1, lose a bunch in Q2, lose a few more in Q3 and then gain some back in Q4.

Tally up the first nine months of 2012 and the pay-TV guys are basically flat — just like they have been for the past couple years, notes Bernstein Research’s Craig Moffett (click chart to enlarge):

For the past few years, the pay-TV guys could point to the cruddy economy as the reason for their nongrowth. But now that argument doesn’t work as well. Moffett: “Household formation, while still anemic, is showing signs of recovery. Pay TV industry subscriber metrics are not. Pay TV penetration of America’s households is therefore falling, even while the number of Pay TV subscribers is still inching higher.”

So, if you’re in the “everyone I know uses the Web instead of cable” camp, that sure sounds like the data supports your argument. Moffett is still unconvinced, though: He figures the net losses come from subscribers who simply can’t afford to pay for TV or the Internet, and are getting their fix from old-fashioned rabbit-ear antennas.


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