Cord Cutting No Longer an ‘Urban Myth’: Analyst

Pay TV customers aren’t cutting the cord in droves yet, but the pace is starting to pick up, a top research in the cable sector said Tuesday as second quarter results continued to roll in.

Pay TV subscribers in the typically weak second quarter declined by 380,000 customers, about the same as last year, but it was paired with an improving housing formation trend,  Moffett Research founder Craig Moffett pointed out in a research note.

While the original thinking has been that a housing recovery would pave the way for a boost in pay TV subscriber improvements “[i]t hasn’t worked out that way,” Moffett wrote.

“Cord cutting used to be an urban myth. It isn’t anymore,” he added. “No, the numbers aren’t huge, but they are statistically significant.”

Moffett estimates that 911,000 U.S. homes have cut the cord over the past 12 months, versus 258,000 in the 12 months ending a year ago. “The pace is accelerating,” he wrote.

Among other stats: Over the past twelve months, U.S. pay TV subscribers have declined 316,000 homes, or about 0.3%. In comparison, over the 12 months ended in the second quarter of 2012, subscribership had risen by 330,000, a gain of 0.3%, the analyst said.

Of the different pay TV distribution players, the telcos are still holding their own amid the cord cutting trend.

U.S. telcos have added 373,000 video subs in the second quarter, up from 275,000 adds last year. Satellite TV providers, meanwhile, lost 162,000 video subs in the period, 100,000 more than what they lost in the year-ago period.  Moffett said domestic cable operators, which include estimates for privately held MSOs, dropped 591,000 video subs in the quarter, slightly narrowing the 606,000 video subs lost in the second quarter of 2012.

But even that was not great news for cable’s pay TV prospects. “Due to shrinkage in the denominator, however, the slightly smaller year-on-year subscriber loss this year nevertheless resulted in an accelerating loss on a percentage basis (-3.1% this year versus -2.6% a year ago),” Moffett wrote.