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Friday, May 04, 2012

Cable TV Subscriber Numbers Continue To Fall, Terrestrial Broadcasters Take Up The Slack

As pointed out by @PeteToms, cable TV lost 5% of their subscribers in 2011. Most of this is a shift to over-the-air TV, while overall viewing declined slightly, about the equivalent of 46 minutes per month.
While traditional TV viewing declined 0.5% in the fourth quarter of 2011 -- or by roughly 46 minutes per month -- "the fact remains that Americans are not turning off," Nielsen said in a blog post Thursday. "They are shifting to new technologies and devices that make it easier for them to watch the video they want, whenever and wherever they want."

Cable's share of pay-TV subscribers dropped to 58.4% in the fourth quarter of 2011 (versus 60.4% a year prior), with 60.47 million video customers. Satellite TV had 34.55 million customers and telco TV operators had 8.45 million in Q4 2011, Nielsen said.

Earlier, Convergence Consulting projected losses of 3.58M from the combined cable and satellite rolls. What's interesting to me (and why this isn't just a different retelling of that earlier story) is that it seems consumers are largely reverting to the old over-the-air model rather than spending all their time online as I supposed earlier. This would bode well for the networks, and for the future of TV deals with local terrestrial broadcasters. But it's still not a good sign for the regional sports networks, who make their coin on the backs of cable operators.

Related: Earlier in the week, streaming TV service Hulu announced an initiative to force viewers to validate that they have a cable TV account. This strikes me as suicidal; if they were losing viewers before, this will just accelerate the process. Todd Spangler, writing at multichannel.com, thinks this is designed to add pressure to cable TV operators:

Indeed, News Corp. decided to retain its stake in Hulu precisely because the Internet TV site is adopting a TV Everywhere strategy, according to Miller: “So you now have an authenticated version where you get more programs sooner if you are an authenticated subscriber. If not, you have to wait and you may not have the full season” free on Hulu.

Why is Fox doing this? So that when the time comes for it to negotiate retrans fees with pay-TV operators, it has another carrot to offer them — in addition to the stick of pulling it signal. (It also helps answer this question from the MVPDs: Why should I pay you guys anything if you’re giving all your best stuff away for free online?)

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