Cable Industry Still Proudly Thinks Cord Cutting Is A Media-Manufactured Crisis
from the denial-is-not-just-a-river-in-Egypt dept
A few years ago, if you asked cable and broadcast executives if cord cutting was real, most of them would proudly declare that it was a complete and total phantom (like Yeti). The few that could admit to the trend would usually try to argue that the only people engaged in this kind of behavior were losers not worthy of their consideration when contemplating their business models. Of course data has emerged since suggesting that not only is cord cutting very real (albeit slow), the people doing it are affluent, educated, and right in cable’s key future target demographic.
These days, most cable and broadcast executives, after slowly hemorrhaging basic cable subscribers for several years and watching broadcast TV ratings drop through the floor, will at least admit that cord cutting is real. But there’s still a strong contingent among them that desperately wants to believe that cord cutting is a media-manufactured phenomenon and that their beautiful legacy cash cow will somehow live forever. The latest case in point comes via a Fortune article that explains “Why Cord Cutting Is a Myth” without actually doing anything of the sort:
“The way content is consumed is changing,? said Amy Banse, managing director of Comcast Ventures. ?We?re all aware of that. But I personally believe, and also by looking at our own statistics, that the volume of press around cord cutting doesn?t quite match reality.”
Again though, Banse doesn’t offer any data to support the argument that cord cutting is a mass media hallucination. Factoring cable’s failure to scale with new housing growth as the housing market recovered, telecom analyst Craig Moffett (who used to deny cord cutting) notes the pay TV business lost 1.4 million subscribers in the last year. The pay TV industry saw its first net subscriber loss during the first quarter of this year, and the industry is contracting at a 0.5% annual rate. This is before you factor in that many people aren’t “cutting the cord” — they’re not signing up for traditional cable in the first place. And all of this is hitting cable and broadcast ratings hard. Comcast’s recent earnings say the company lost 69,000 basic video subscribers last quarter and 3 million over the last six years.
These are measurable metrics — some small, some not so small. All important, and none imagined.
Still, to hear the cable industry tell it, cord cutting is “over-reported”:
“George Kliavkoff, president of Hearst Ventures, agreed, and said the topic is low-hanging fruit for the media: ?Cord-cutting is a great ?story,?? he said. ?But I think it?s over-reported.? What?s more likely to gain sizable traction, he said, is cord ?shaving,? where consumers simply move away from all-encompassing multichannel packages. ?A la carte purchasing of channels?and not taking most of them?is a far more interesting area,? he said.
The second half of that argument could certainly be true. “Cord shaving” or “cord cheating” is also occurring at an increased rate as cable customers socked with bi-annual rate hikes look for any opportunity to cut their monthly bill. Eventually, these users will also likely be turning their gaze toward redundant cable voice services, forcing cable operators to replace that revenue in new and “creative” ways. This is all part of one conversation. And while yes, some media outlets do overhype cord cutting without nuance or context (as happens with all things), how the media explains what’s happening is a distraction. The focus should be on how the cable and broadband industry is failing to adapt to internet video through its refusal to offer truly evolutionary products and pricing.
Some of this is semantics. Some cable execs simply don’t like to call it “cord cutting,” given there’s still a cord — it just happens to be broadband only. But whatever you call it, the answer to all of these problems has a single unified answer. With 2015’s rise in new internet video options, cable’s going to have to do the one thing it has spent a generation refusing to do: compete on price.