Cable Execs Now Falsely Claiming Cord Cutting Is Slowing Down

from the self-delusion dept

At no point has the cable industry or its executives been particularly keyed in to the “cord cutting” threat. As streaming video has chipped away at their subscriber bases, most cable giants like Spectrum and Comcast have responded by raising prices. And when confronted by growing evidence that cord cutting (defined as cutting the TV cord but keeping broadband) was a growing trend, most of these same executives spent years first denying cord cutting was happening, then trying to claim the only people doing so were lame man-children living in their moms’ basements.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge was a key part of this cable executive myopia, both failing to see the trend coming, then failing utterly to respond to it in any meaningful way. The result: Charter has been losing subscribers for years, last quarter losing 75,000 cable TV customers. That’s not as bad as the 1.36 million pay TV customers lost by AT&T in the same period, but it’s not what you’d advertise as “good,” either.

Having no meaningful reputation on this subject to stand on, Rutledge last week tried to insist that the threat of users cancelling bloated, costly pay TV bundles and moving to streaming was a phenomenon that would soon slow down:

“I think in aggregate they?re going to slow down,? said Rutledge. ?Because I think most single-family homes have big TVs in them and that?s where you get sports, that?s where you get news, that?s where you get live TV like this. It?s still going to be under price pressure. I?m not saying the category isn?t under pressure. But I think the rate of decline will slow.”

But there’s no actual evidence to support that conclusion. Cord cutting has only been accelerating and breaking records throughout 2019. And with a number of high profile streaming alternatives like Disney+ and Apple TV+ having launched this month, there’s absolutely no indication that trend is going to change. That’s something being made clear at research firms like UBS, which is actually predicting that things will be getting slightly better for AT&T, and marginally worse for cable giants like Charter:

“UBS predicted that the U.S. pay TV industry will lose another 6.2 million video subscribers in 2020, down slightly from the 6.4 million the analyst firm predicts will be lost in total this year. If that loss comes to bear it will represent a 6.7% rate of decline, ahead of 6.2% in 2019 and well ahead of 1.2% in 2018 when video subscriber losses totaled 1.2 million. ?We now expect industry losses to remain in the 6-7% per year range for the medium term, suggesting worsening trends in domestic core affiliate into next year,? wrote UBS analyst John Hodulik in a research report. He said that improvement at AT&T will likely be offset by worsening trends for cable providers and other MVPDs.”

The irony here is that Rutledge’s prediction would actually be true if cable giants were willing to compete on price and customer service. But they’re not, so the losses are likely to continue, especially with new services like Disney+ jumping into the fray at a measly $6 a month.

This is crazy, but maybe don’t take predictions from a guy whose response to increased competition is to raise prices, repeatedly. Or from a guy whose company is so disliked, it literally has among the worst customer satisfaction rankings of any company, in any industry in America (pause and think about that accomplishment for a moment). Cable executives could respond to the cord cutting threat (read: cheaper, better competition) by fixing customer service and lowering prices. Instead, they’d rather stick their heads three feet underground, the very reason they’re in this predicament in the first place.

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Companies: charter

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Comments on “Cable Execs Now Falsely Claiming Cord Cutting Is Slowing Down”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

To be fair, he said they’re going to slow down in aggregate, not that it’s slowing down now. And he’s right, sort of. It has to slow eventually as broadband-only houses become the default, there just won’t be anyone left that can cancel.

Eventually their remaining subscribers will be those that choose to keep cable TV service because broadband sucks in their area, or they’re not comfortable with the Internet and streaming and prefer the simplicity of television.

I fully expect that by 2025 they will have cable TV channels that exclusively broadcast content licensed from online streaming services.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Future forward

Wait until they realize that the silo’ed world of streaming ain’t gonna work either (their hoping against hope that their ‘strategies’ aren’t actually wrong). Expect a whole new category of word salad nicoise a la potato to explain the impending failures that they say aren’t really failures. And the whole lotta money down the drain? Cost of doing business, and were gonna have to raise prices to remain viable.

Koby (profile) says:


The model of an industry which has lost customers, and then responded by raising proces, is the U.S. Postal Service. Something tells me that the government isn’t going to be too keen on bailing them out as soon as the tiniest bit of competition takes them to the cleaners, financially-speaking. The future does not look bright for cable.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Model

The only reason the USPS is operating at a loss is because they’re paying for benefits in the future for their employees, something no other business has to do. Had the USPS not been forced to do this by a 2006 law, they would have turned a profit. See here.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Agammamon says:

Re: Re: Model

As much as it pains me to say this – that’s pretty much correct.

There is, though, the little matter of the monopoly on 1st class mail.

Other than that, the USPS is actually a pretty well run government agency – that would be totally irrelevant if it weren’t for that monopoly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Model

USPS is an interesting example. The private parcel companies like UPS, FedEx, and DHL are all completely dependent on USPS to stay profitable. They hand off final delivery to USPS for routes that aren’t profitable enough, knowing that the USPS has to deliver to any valid address regardless of the actual costs. They’re very effective at shifting the costs of doing their business onto the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Model

That is not shifting anything onto the public. I wish people would stop repeating this bullshit.
The USPS funding is covered by the rates they charge for delivering the mail. There is no reduced price of this rate paid for by the taxpayers – that is bullshit.
If the conservative idiots with their ill conceived plan to privatize everything had not screwed up the USPS, it would be a profitable endeavor.

Agammamon says:

Re: Re: Re: Model

I don’t consider being forced to put money aside to pay for future pension obligations to be scewing anything up.

If anything, all government agencies (and businesses) should be required to do so.

Pensions are supposed to be deferred earnings – which should come out of company income at the time it would have been earned – not being paid out of current earnings decades later.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Model

The USPS funding is covered by the rates they charge for delivering the mail.

Overall. Individual pieces of mail can be unprofitable (e.g. mail to rural areas, military offices, remote states/territories), subsidized by others.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Model

USPS has a number of issues not faced by normal businesses. They are largely unable to adapt pricing to the costs faced by high COL areas like the bay area, they have to raise prices nationwide which disincentivizes personal use. They can’t fraudulently declare mail carriers independent contractors to keep costs low like UPS, Fedex, and Amazon. They are legally required to over fund their pension benefits. They took a long time to adapt to the package handling boom caused by online shopping, and are held to stricter standards for mail carriers than package carriers have for independent contractors making rapid expansion difficult.

And yet, they are profitable, and still have booming operations in the business market.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Model

"They are legally required to over fund their pension benefits."

Due to legislation passed in congress, requiring the usps to meet requirements not seen elsewhere in private or government.

The private carriers apparently take advantage of the workforce and force them to be "independent contractors" while not paying them enough for food and shelter. And some use that as a model for the usps to duplicate? LOL

Anonymous Coward says:

Cable used to be necessary to get a clear signal.

Many keep cable because it costs next to nothing with Broadband service and tv has some advantages.

Streaming is becoming an a la carte cable bill that will be just as expensive as the old cable bill eventually.

YouTube is the real cancer on their profitability. People are making cellphone videos that swipe audience from the legacy producers and advertisers pay just as much no matter the content. Which is cheaper to produce? Piracy is not an issue on YouTube given how much control they have over the audience and how easy they make it to find videos, plus they pay 68 percent to creators and because they get paid too they defend copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Starlink will doom them

Unfortunately, the cable companies do have a bit of historical wisdom here. They expect the drainage to slow not due to there being nobody left, but due to there being nowhere to go.

Streaming is currently entering the exclusive content and balkanization phase. Cable went through this decades ago, and came up with strategies to survive and turn a profit… strategies which evaporated in the face of streaming competition and digital broadcast content.

In other words, we’re never going to have cheaper alternatives that don’t try to force options we don’t want. Eventually streaming will switch to bundles (PrimeVideo is already heading in that direction) to make enough money to generate the quarterly profit increases investors demand.

It’ll be interesting to see what comes after Internet Streaming. I’m sure something will — current services are going to turn into the New Cable within 20 years though. Probably end up being owned by the same people eventually.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: Re: Starlink will doom them

All Prime is will be doing is offering HBO Max, Disney+ etc at full freight. What could really change the game is offering customized payment schemes that cut across services.

Prime mass-subscribers to HBO Max, Disney+ etc and then offers various plans like "12 seasons per month" of any series of your choice across all the services for a set price. Or they bundle various genres together like a sci fi bundle. Or they institute auto-churn and do what we can all do, except with more effort, namely Netflix is January and Disney+ is February, etc. There are many other customized payment schemes that could be devised rather than the mere two we have now: cheap bundles of exclusive content (Netflix) or expensive targeted pay per view (iTunes).

That kind of meta-service will emerge first from the likes of Amazon, Apple or Google and will involve the immanent losers in the streaming war, like CBS All Access and Peacock. And maybe it’s a way Apple avoids being a loser itself? It will be a desperation move to carve out a space while Netflix and Disney+ gets subscribers the old fashioned way, but as the industry matures, it could spread to encompass all the players.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TasMot (profile) says:

Wow, if only CABLE companies could focus on providing good cable service. No, they want to be producers, advertisers, and data brokers as well. They’ve lost track of who are the real customers.

In the original cable model, the customers were the people at the end of the wire and the product is (was) the programming.

In an advertising model, the customers are the people buying the advertising and the product is the people at the end of the wire.

In the data broker model, the customers are the data purchasers and the product is the data about the people at the end of the wire.

In the first model, people paid to receive better programming.

In the last two models, people (who understand) don’t want to be paying higher and higher prices to be sold out by their cable providers. If the cable company wants to sell out their subscribers, they should be providing the cable service for free, much like Google, Twitter and Facebook provide free services that then then sell as data or to advertisers.

The cable companies at some point decided to try to charge both the customers and the products (subscribers) they were selling. They really need to decide what business they are in, cable service, data service, or advertising, and charge the correct customer a proper price. Instead, they are trying to (over-) charge everybody.

Get real people, take off the tie that is cutting off the blood flow to you brain and figure out your business model.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In the original cable model, the customers were the people at the end of the wire and the product is (was) the programming.

No, the product was the signal. The programming had nothing to do with the cable (then "community antenna") company, which was only relaying broadcast signals.

Wow, if only CABLE companies could focus on providing good cable service

…it still might not be enough. The idea of watching programming on someone else’s schedule, with watermarks and ads plastered above the programming in addition to frequent commercial breaks, is difficult to call "good" if one is not already used to it.

Agammamon says:

Re: Re: Re:

. . . with watermarks and ads plastered above the programming

That’s the thing. Cable, when it first started, was almost completely devoid of ads. That was one of its big selling points. Now, even ‘premium’ pay channels (HBO, etc) run advertisements.

Its worse than movie theaters – paying 10 dollars for a ticket and you want to show me 5 minutes of ads in front of the movie? I’ll just rip it, thank you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Cable, when it first started, was almost completely devoid of ads. That was one of its big selling points.

Citation needed. Wikipedia says cable started in the 1940s-1950s, rebroadcasting and amplifying signals that would otherwise be difficult to receive. "Pay TV" aka premium stations didn’t exist till HBO in 1972, and became popular in the ’80s. Those would have been the ad-free ones, but the majority of cable subscribers didn’t have them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Community Antenna TeleVision had one big community-owned antenna whose signal was rebroadcast to hundreds of people or more. All copyright laws and precedents were based on that model. Aereo had each person renting their own tiny antenna and receiving its individual signal, which was all legal until courts came up with twisted logic to rule against them.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Cable was never going to be able to compete with streaming. The internet is just more of an efficient platform for reaching the world. Netflix is a "cable" service capable of cheaply offering content to the planet, without even needing the expense of maintaining the infrastructure. There is no such thing as global cable, so you can’t ever tap into the same efficiencies of scale. When i realized this years ago, I knew cable (and broadcast) were doomed as less efficient business models.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
davetechdirt02 (profile) says:

"that’s where you get sports, that’s where you get news,"

  1. Many (most?) people don’t care about getting news via TV. They just don’t care about news in general.
  2. Some (I have no idea how many) people don’t care about sports. Even when the Denver Broncos are in the Super Bowl, we don’t watch at our house. We go next to our neighbors for a party.
nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: Re:

News is a commodity and how it’s going to continue as a viable business really remains to be seen. I’m cynical enough to think that news will largely operate as bias confirmation services. People don’t watch Fox News for information, they watch to have their biases confirmed. There are a lot more types of biases that people might want confirmed than just the Fox News variety. There’s money in that.

Sports has been artificially supported by cable subscribers that don’t watch it, and now that that’s ending, the greedy bloat in sports will be deflated some. But I’m sure some streaming solution will emerge. The leagues will have their own exclusive platforms, Disney makes ESPN+ work as a sports streaming destination, or something else happens.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Almost enough to garner sympathy. Almost

You almost have to feel sorry for them. So obsessed with short term profits they’ve basically chained themselves to a sinking ship, and the only thing they can do is wrap themselves in denial and insist that the ship is doing fine, it’ll stop taking on water any minute now without them having to do a thing.

Cord cutting didn’t exist, except it did, except that didn’t matter because it wasn’t a big thing, except it might be but that’s okay, people will start signing right back up as soon as they start popping out kids who will of course be super focused on cable, except they really aren’t but that’s okay because people will start coming back to the amazing deals offered by cable any day now and they can just keep jacking the prices up to make up for the minor difference in customer count anyway…

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Almost enough to garner sympathy. Almost

"You almost have to feel sorry for them. So obsessed with short term profits they’ve basically chained themselves to a sinking ship, and the only thing they can do is wrap themselves in denial…"

The only thing I’m still curious about is how on earth those people even manage to tie their shoelaces in the morning. The very second cord-cutting took off in the first place was when their entire business model went bust and they should have looked for a way out then and there.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: Re: Almost enough to garner sympathy. Almost

I’m convinced that these dolts aren’t quite as doltish as you’d think. They know damn well that streaming is going to destroy their business but the C-level jerks are all guys in their 50s and 60s. Pretty close to retirement. If they jumped right away into streaming, their decades of experience would become irrelevant.

Their rolodexes of contacts in advertising and distribution become useless, and what they really need is what some kid in Silicon Valley knows about data-driven decision making. Advertising is less important or unimportant and suddenly you need expertise in the global entertainment industry that never mattered to cable. So why wouldn’t the dinosaur in the C suite get the boot in favor of the Silicon Valley kid? Nah, better to hunker down and let their company go under just to get closer to golden parachute retirement.

Melvin Chudwaters says:

At some point in the future, it will be true. There will come a year when not even a single customer cuts the cord.

Perhaps they’ve already reached that point?

My own ISP, Suddenlink, refuses to upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1. This makes it impossible to get their gigabit service (which isn’t really gigabit) because the only gigabit-rated modems use the defective Intel chipset, and the only non-defective gigabit-rated modems are the unsupported DOCSIS 3.1 modems.

They say there’s no reason to upgrade because they’d be better off just switching us all over to fiber (if only they would). Years ago, they had this 5 year plan to do that all the way across the United States. Starting in 2017.

They upgraded some tiny territory in NYS and New Jersey back in 2017, and haven’t made a move since. The 5 year plan is already half over, with something like 1-2% of their customers having upgraded to fiber. Their new focus seems to be on some crummy streaming bundle which will have subpar performance because of their lousy internet infrastructure.

AT&T is the only other player where I live. And back in May they stopped their fiber rollout and laid off all the fiber installers because they had fulfilled the terms of their FTC deal that let them buy DirecTV. They stopped about 3-4 houses away from me. But that didn’t stop them from sending salesmen door-to-door trying to sell me 50mps DSL and lying to me that it was fiber (yeh, to a box 400 yards away on another street… then shitty 1950s-era twisted copper to my house).

I can’t wait for these companies to die.

bobob says:

I just happily contributed to cord cutting by cancelling my parents’ ATT Uverse and setting them up to get what they wanted for half of what ATT was charging. The ATT call center guy asked what it was going to cost me to change over with the impkication that he would match the price, but admitted he couldn’t do so after I told him what he’d have to match.

I have difficulty seeing how that trend could be slowing down unless there are too few customers remaining who haven’t cut the cord that the trend would have to slow down just based on the how few haven’t already done so.

Agammamon says:

“Because I think most single-family homes have big TVs in them and that’s where you get sports, that’s where you get news, that’s where you get live TV like this.

How do you get into these positions without understanding your potential customer base.

Grandpa might get his news from cable – most likely he gets it from local broadcast tv though. Everyone else gets it from Facebook;)

CNN, MSNBC, Fox – all stream their shows. So no matter where you stand on the political spectrum you can get your fake news from the mainstream media right on your phone. And that’s in addition to all the internet only news/media sites.

Sports alone is pretty obviously not going to keep anyone except sportsbars as customers – because your streaming customers are meeting up at the sportsbar to watch the game and drink. And as more sports are available streaming, even the sportsbars aren’t keeping the cord.

Oh, and the ‘big tv in the living room’ has a USB port so they’ve all been plugged into Chromecast (or similar) so they’re just casting their streaming services to the tv.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

How do you get into these positions without understanding your potential customer base.

Cable executives make more annually than you’ll make in your life, and haven’t had to understand it so far. Why start now? Worst case, they’ll be fired and collect tens of millions of dollars in severance.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Cable cutting statistics

And with a number of high profile streaming alternatives like Disney+ and Apple TV+ having launched this month, there’s absolutely no indication that trend is going to change.

The people who signed up for Disney+… how many of them are using Apple TV? How many are using Sling? How many are using Cloud DVR (Comcast and others)?

Analysis of data requires two things – data and analysis. Right now the data is missing the part which would allow correlation of who has what services… who of those are "cord-cutters", whether you cancel your video channel service with your cable company but keep the cable "cord" to stream video over IP you’re a real "cord-cutter" or just count in someone’s statistics (and if so whom and to what end) and finally

— the most important stat —

How many hours of advertising free programming are "cord-cutters" watching, what premiums are they paying the cable companies and telcos to get their IP access, and how does that compare to the non-cord-cutters.


Anonymous Coward says:

Too Stupid to Survive

"…1.36 million pay TV customers lost by AT&T…"

Wait! Let’s not forget AT&T phone subscribers who swapped to other phone services because AT&T kept trying to defray Internet and TV costs by sneakily raising charges to phone customers. My monthly 2-phone bill went from just under $80 to nearly $100 as AT&T kept jacking it up. Now, I’m paying about $55 to someone else.

AT&T’s incompetence and dishonesty are broader than TV and broadband silliness alone.

Let’s look forward to celebrating their death-by-stupidity.

nerdrage (profile) says:

ostrich time

This is beyond pathetic. I saw this trend coming about five years ago, and I’m just some random idiot on the internet who doesn’t even make a living in this industry. But all you have to do is see what the leading populations are doing – the young people, the early tech adopter crowd – and extrapolate forward. The older populations die off (and advertisers don’t care about them anyway) so what matters is what younger people do. The tech adopter crowd paves the way for the general population. And it’s all shaping up exactly as I predicted: both cable and broadcast are cratering, replaced by streaming. Derrr. Why do these CEO idiots be paid millions?

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