from the head-buried-firmly-in-the-sand dept
For years the traditional cable and broadcast industry has gone to great lengths to deny that cord cutting (getting rid of traditional cable TV) is real. First, we were told repeatedly that the phenomenon wasn't happening at all. Next, the industry acknowledged that sure -- a handful of people were ditching cable, but it didn't matter because the people doing so were losers living in their mom's basement. Then, we were told that cord cutting was real, but was only a minor phenomenon that would go away once Millennials started procreating.
Of course none of these talking points were true, but they helped cement a common belief among older cable and broadcast executives that the transformative shift to streaming video could be easily solved by doubling down on bad ideas. More price increases, more advertisements stuffed into each minute, more hubris, and more denial. Blindness to justify the milking of a dying cash cow instead of adapting.
But given the numbers we've seen over the last year or two, even the cable and broadcast industry has had to scale back its "head firmly in the sand" approach to market evolution. Last month MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett, the telecom industry's top media quote machine, pointed out that 2016's 1.7% decline in traditional cable TV viewers was the biggest cord cutting acceleration on record. Kagan agreed, a recent report indicating that Pay TV providers lost around 1.9 million subscribers last year, the firm predicting a notable spike in the number of broadband-only homes:
"At the same time, American broadband-only homes grew much faster in 2016 — increasing by more than 2 million. Kagan estimated the U.S. had 15.4 million non-multichannel broadband homes at the end of last year, up from 13.3 million end of 2015. That suggest that 13% of the country’s occupied households make the decision not to take a traditional multichannel TV package."
Another new report by Convergence Research predicts that this broadband-only trend will only continue:
"US TV subscriber losses and cord cutter/never household additions saw a major increase in 2016 as compared to 2015: We estimate 2016 saw a decline of 2.05 million US TV subscribers, 2015 saw a decline of 1.16 million, and forecast a decline of 2.11 million TV subscribers for 2017...As of YE2016 we estimate 27.2 million US households (22.3% of HHs) did not have a traditional TV subscription with a Cable, Satellite, or Telco TV access provider, up from 24.2 million (20% of HHs) YE2015, and we forecast 30.3 million (24.6% of HHs) YE2017. 2015 saw 2.1 million, 2016 3 million, and we forecast 3.1 million 2017 cord cutter/never household additions.
The shorter version: by next year, one quarter of Americans will no longer subscribe to traditional cable. And that's only going to accelerate as cheaper, better, streaming alternatives emerge.
In a functioning, healthy market, these companies would see the writing on the wall and adapt, benefiting users. And to be fair, some have tried (Dish's Sling TV, AT&T's DirecTV Now). But with the cable industry's growing monopoly over broadband, a return to rubber-stamp regulation, and the looming death of net neutrality, many of these companies correctly understand they won't have to seriously compete anytime soon. They can simply impose unnecessary usage caps and overage fees on uncompetitive broadband markets, then use zero rating to give their own services a leg up -- while penalizing competitors.
Unfortunately for them, even that likely won't "solve" the tectonic evolution that's only just starting to take place. Ultimately, denial-prone cable and broadcast executives will be left with just one, unthinkable option: actually competing on cable TV price, flexibility and quality.