Cable Guys Still Can't Find Cord-Cutters, Even When They Squint

Published on March 14, 2011
by Peter Kafka

Here’s the cord-cutting debate: There’s the group that insists cord cutting is here, or that it’s going show up really soon. And then there’s the incumbent TV industry, which continues to say that it can’t find any evidence that people are dumping their cable subscriptions for some combination of YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, etc.

Lastest installment: A report from Disney’s ESPN, which says that just a tiny fraction–0.18 percent–of cable subscribers cut the cord in the last three months, and that that number shrank from 0.28 percent last fall.

Just as important, says ESPN: It found an equal number of “un-cutters”–broadcast TV owners who added cable and broadband access during the same period. Which means whatever loss the cable business just recorded was netted out by its new gains.

ESPN’s analysis, which it put together using Nielsen numbers, basically mirrors what it reported late last fall. Except it’s even more positive for cable guys like Comcast and Time Warner Cable–and, of course, ESPN itself.

If you’re a cynic, you might wonder what the cable network would do if the numbers didn’t support its relatively rosy outlook. Then again, if you really were a cynic, you might argue that a lot of the cable-cutting rhetoric you hear comes from cord-cutting start-ups and their backers, who have their own expensive axes to grind.

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