Cord Cutting Trends in 2017: The Biggest Pay-TV Subscriber Losses Ever

A few years ago, Comcast was arguing that cutting the cord was mostly a media trend. Executives at the company stating that while the phrase ‘cutting the cord’ might sound cool to those pesky young millenials, the reality of the situation was far less terrifying, in theory, for the cable giant.

But here we are, towards the end of 2017, and according to public filings of AT&T, Comcast, Dish, Charter and Verizon, 2017 will be the biggest decline in pay television subscriptions ever. According to Bloomberg, in 2016, cable and satellite TV companies lost over 1.7 million paying customers, and our data suggests they’re going to surpass that this year.

Based on our estimates, along with data showing that in the third quarter alone there have been close to 470,000 cancellations, we predict the 2017 cable TV cancellations will surpass somewhere between 1.8 and 1.9 million people.  Barring any major fourth quarter turnaround (a traditionally slower time for new TV subscription signups), there is nothing to suggest this trend slowing, either.

Google Trends, while not a 100% reliable data point, suggests that search traffic for “cable TV” continues to decline year over year, as seen below:

Netflix, Hulu, and smaller “streaming only” offerings like Sling TV and DirecTV Now have shown positive growth trends, with the appeal being a more a la carte offering to traditional cable.

As one reader commented to us, “nobody needs to watch TV live anymore, just give me on-demand offerings.”

A more notable trend, and probably the one that scares cable television companies the most, is the “cord never” concept, that younger generations aren’t even bothering to sign up for their own cable television packages when the move out of the house. Instead, they rely far more on mobile entertainment (think YouTube, Snapchat), and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, both very popular with this key demographic.

So what is cable to do? Comcast is already pushing a standalone “streaming only” offering, which as we reported earlier in the month, is basically charging consumers $14 a month for what is already available over an antenna. Not exactly innovation. The WSJ reported earlier this year that the art of using an antenna for television is often overlooked by younger viewership, with one person in the article even asking, “is this legal?”

In order for traditional television to reengage with younger, more tech-savvy audiences, a fundamental shift in thinking needs to occur. Unfortunately, for many of these companies, doing so requires more than three months of product offering innovation, the quarterly reporting cycle to public market investors. There isn’t a lot of room for these companies to change their current business models, a risky endeavor, without suffering a hit to stock prices.

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