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Another Look at Cord-Cutting: How Big Is It?

By: Paul Rodriquez, Cable Tech Talk

Earlier this week, I examined the recent coverage of the “cord-cutting” phenomenon. What I wanted to do was look at two questions:

  • Can you really replace your cable service with just online video?
  • At the present time, is this really a widespread phenomenon?

On Tuesday, when I addressed that first question, I came to the conclusion that it would be difficult to replace all the programming accessible through multichannel video by just relying on online sources. Now it’s time to look at the second point. As I suggested previously, it’s helpful to read our previous posts on cord-cutting:

How Significant Is the Phenomenon?

In my last post, I noted that the perception is that tons of television content are available for free online, but the reality is that this is not completely true for cable programming. It’s also true that, in some circles, there is a perception of large numbers of consumers fleeing cable (e.g., “Cord cutters flocking to online TV at the expense of cable“), but the reality is quite different.

Yesterday, CTAM released a new study entitled Crossing Over: Understanding Viewer Multi-Screen Migration, based on research conducted by The Nielsen Company. The media release for the study says, “The study identified eight distinct broadband user segments, determined by their levels of engagement with video content across TV, online and mobile platforms, the devices they used to consume content and their motivations for and attitudes toward using multiple platforms. ” About 8% of broadband users are identified as belonged to the group “Extreme Techies;” these people are identified as technology innovators and are the most advanced group in their consumption of online video.

How much do the Extreme Techies watch online? As noted in this Hollywood Reporter article on the study, they watch “up to 91 minutes (1.5 hours) per week, compared to the mean of 44 minutes.” That’s it. Overall, 58% of TV viewing time is spent regularly scheduled programming on a television; 20% through use of a DVR; and 6% for online video.

You might think that really young people would skew differently, but a recent survey conducted by analyst Bruce Leichtman found otherwise:

In a nationwide survey of 1,250 broadband households and separate sample group of 250 teens aged 12 to 17, Leichtman found that only 8% of respondents watch repurposed TV shows online, compared to 24% that watch news clips, 20% who view user-generated clips on YouTube and 15% that watch sports news or highlights.

The title of Leichtman’s report? The Phenomenon That Isn’t.

You might have also read about a recent Nielsen Three Screen Report shows that people are still watching TV, on a television set. Or you can check out this SNL Kagan chart on video subscriptions and notice that there doesn’t seem to be a significant decline in people subscribing to cable service. There was a Craig Moffett report written in February that said, “The Fourth Quarter of 2008 may someday be remembered as the quarter when video cord cutting… didn’t happen.” Or you might use your common sense and notice that we live in a time when sales of big-screen hi-def TVs and HD content is on the rise. You might then ask why you’d want to watch all your video on a laptop or a 24″ computer monitor instead of on a high-definition television.

And yet there was also a WSJ story yesterday: More Households Cut the Cord on Cable.

Quote One:

In what’s shaping up as the home-entertainment equivalent of severing a landline phone service, more people are joining the ranks of “cord cutters” by forgoing cable subscriptions that can run $60 or more a month.

Quote Two:

The number of cable cutters remains too small to threaten the pay-television industry.

Quote Three:

Those who end up cutting the cord do pay a price in entertainment. Pay-TV services, like cable and satellite, still carry more live events, TV shows, movies and other content for viewers to watch than what’s available online. Web TV also doesn’t offer as much high-definition content as pay TV… Some would-be cable cutters have pulled back at the last minute, in part because live events like sports are hard to find online.

I think Will Richmond summed it up nicely in the title of a recent blog post: Video Behavior Changes Suggest “Evolution,” Not “Revolution” For Now.

As I mentioned last time, online video is a wonderful thing. If you only watch broadcast TV or if you only watch a few shows, then cord-cutting may be the perfect solution for you. Otherwise, it seems more like a complement to some kind of multichannel video subscription. For robust delivery of high-quality programming to a lot of simultaneous viewers, cable is hard to beat.

For more on this issue, see recent articles from Aaron Barnhart (”Cord-cutting is an urban legend … for now“) and Carol Wilson (”Cable cord cutting debate rages on“).


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