Cord-Cutting Has ‘Accelerated Markedly’: Analyst

While the overall U.S. pay-TV universe grew subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2014, it did not keep up with the rate of new household formation, meaning that the pace of cord-cutting is actually on the rise, MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett surmised in a report issued Wednesday.

“On the surface, all is calm,” he wrote, noting that the total pay-TV subscriber base rose by 101,000 subs. It gets messy, he added, when those numbers are held against a surge in new household formation in the fourth quarter (1.3 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau) that typically “provides a tailwind for Pay TV subscribership.”

While conceding that government occupied household data is “notoriously volatile and therefore slightly suspicious,” Moffett said the adjusted numbers indicate that cord-cutting (mixed with cord-nevers) “appears to have markedly increased.”

On a trailing 12-month basis, he added, it appears that 1.4 million homes have cut (or never had) the proverbial cord, which makes it the highest 12-month total yet.  On a cumulative basis, 3.8 million would-be pay TV homes now fit into this group since the first traces of cord-cutting appeared in 2010, Moffett noted.

The fourth quarter of 2014, he noted, “may simply be the calm before the storm.”

As for the U.S. pay TV numbers, the 101,000 total net adds in the fourth quarter represented a year-over-year growth rate of -0.1%. Cable losses (-170,000 subs) in that period slowed to -2.2%, alongside satellite TV growth of 0.1% (+86,000), and a 9.9% growth slowdown by telco TV providers (+185,000 subs).

Moffett also remarked at the emergence of new OTT pay-TV offerings, including Sling TV and its slimmed-down packages and Sony’s coming full-freight PlayStation Vue service.

“While none look like world-beaters on their own, they are likely to have at least some collective impact,” he wrote, also noting that the “real revolution” will likely come from new content providers  that are using new distribution models to reach millennial audiences.