MediaPost, B&C

Forget ‘Cord Cutting’ — As Subscriber Losses Accelerate, a Newer Phenomenon Is Being Cited

Mar 28, 2016  •  Post A Comment

A new analysis of cable subscription rates shows an acceleration of the erosion that cable nets have been experiencing, with Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser describing what’s happening as “cord shaving,” rather than the traditional phenomenon of cord cutting.

MediaPost reports: “Wieser alluded to various ‘headwinds or tailwinds’ contributing to the trend, but overall he said it represents a pattern of ‘cord-shaving’ vs. ‘cord-cutting,’ as U.S. TV households reduce the size of their overall cable packages.”

The latest universe estimates from Nielsen for April show an overall decline of 1.7% in pay TV households, with larger losses among some of the largest network groups.

B&C reports: “It appears to be a particularly serious issue for The Walt Disney Co., whose networks were down 3.6% in April after being down 3.6% in March, and for Viacom, which was down 3.1% for the second straight month.”

Declines for Time Warner, Scripps Networks Interactive, NBCUniversal, Discovery and A+E Networks were all in the 2% range, while AMC was off 1.9% and 21st Century Fox dipped 0.9%, B&C reports. Crown Media Networks was up 10.8%.

Of the 122 cable nets measured by Nielsen, 30 reportedly showed some subscriber growth.


  1. I wonder how you can “cord shave” when you already have the basic package, as most people do. Personally, I think if you live in an area where you can get all of the TV networks over the air, and can live without ESPN, CNN and Fox News, you’ve got to be crazy to pay a penny to a cable/satellite company for TV, whose business models are to pry every cent they possibly can from your wallet. Box rentals, DVR fees, a fee now for over-the-air stations, and terrible customer service. Yep, absolutely crazy.

  2. You apparently do not know how the business model works at all. Programming fees by programmers, not the cable company, are through the roof, and are contractually bound to go up year to year, and many programmers force cable companies via contracts to add channels whether they want to or not. ESPN charges cable companies $5 to $7 per subscriber per month for just that one channel. Pretty much every channel charges the cable company a per month per subscriber fee to carry their channels. The fee for over the air stations is because the OVER THE AIR STATION’s are now charging cable companies $1.5 to $2 per month per subscriber per channel! In the past, these over the air stations were FREE to cable companies. Today, these “broadcast” channels are FREE only to consumers with an antenna. In many cases, cable companies are forced to carry a suite of channels by various companies like ESPN, Viacom, Fox, etc. and each of these channels carry their own per month per subscriber fees.

    DVR fees are relatively cheap, in my opinion, since some of these setups cost the cable company anywhere from $500 to $1000 per system, depending on how many STB’s a consumer has, and the cable company is placing this very expensive per subscriber investment in a consumers home for like a $5 to $10 a month rental.

    Let’s be clear when it is the programmers that are causing the monthly cable fees to skyrocket from year to year and NOT the cable companies. Yes, cable companies are passing on these skyrocketing fees though to the consumer. Until programmers, not cable companies, begin to allow a la carte programming for consumers, things will just continue to get worse from year to year. Cable companies are not at fault for not allowing a la carte programming, the actual programmers will not contractually allow it in nearly all cases meaning programmers like ESPN/Disney, Viacom, Fox, Discovery, etc.

    However, good customer service is the responsibility of the cable operator/dish provider.

  3. Les, I do know how the business model works, I just didn’t want to get into the details. Either way, you still “write the check” to the cable company, and when you have a problem, they’re the ones you call. You don’t call your local NBC affiliate when your box goes out.

  4. I hate to “actually” you on that last point, Scott, but that is exactly what cable consumers do when their local NBC/ABC/CBS affiliate signal goes bad. Most of the time, it’s the fault of the cable provider when there is signal issue.

    Regardless, your original point stands true. Why consumers pay for that many channels when the average they consume is about 18 is crazy. And I like how you say living *without* CNN and FOX News. I can’t believe people live *with* those channels.

    To Les’ point about local affiliates charging more for retrans – they pretty much have to. The major networks keep dumping higher reverse comp rates on the stations. That money has to come from somewhere.

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