One in eight U.S. homes now has broadband but no cable, study says

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Vividly illustrating the reality of cord-cutting, a report from SNL Kagan casts a new light on American media consumption.

The report released Wednesday found that 13% of U.S. homes, or one in eight, are equipped with broadband but do not subscribe to a traditional multichannel video bundle. The total number of such homes reached 15.4 million last year, up 2 million from 2015. The trend accelerated in the fourth quarter, with 427,000 homes going broadband-only compared with an increase of 395,000 in the same period in 2015.

Tony Lenoir of SNL Kagan, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, projects the percentage of broadband-only homes will grow to 22% by 2021. The 2016 tally “should end the debate” about whether cord-cutting is a real phenomenon, he said.

Part of cord-cutters’ motivation is price, certainly. But it’s also about preference. The user interfaces, discovery features and overall experience of many traditional cable, satellite and telco offerings differ markedly from the more fluid and intuitive digital video services in the market. “While financial considerations likely are at play, the segment’s trend, combined with the erosion of legacy multichannel, primarily underscores the evolution of video consumption preferences,” Lenoir wrote.

RELATED: Pay TV has lost record 1.3M subs so far this year, SNL Kagan says

The dawning recognition of cord-cutting's popularity, especially among millennial customers, has motivated MVPDs to roll out newer skinny services a la Sling TV and DirecTV Now. And U.S. broadband access is dominated by the traditional operators, meaning they can still profit amid the shift. But the question is about revenue per customer, plus recent numbers show that operators may be losing the race to replace departing video customers with new subscribers to skinny services.

In 2016, the U.S. pay-TV industry lost 1.7 million subscribers in 2016. MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett called the shedding of 1.7% of subs “the fastest rate of decline on record.”

Programmers, too, have felt the pain. ESPN, which gets the majority of its revenue from cable carriage fees, has lost millions of subscribers in recent years, a direct hit on revenue. One result of all of this angst has been a rise in retransmission battles and blackouts, as programmers and operators used to reigning supreme fight for every dollar in the digital age.

Lenoir in January had predicted that the number of broadband-only homes could soar 83% from current levels to 28 million homes in 2021. In yesterday’s report, he said, that earlier forecast “could end up on the conservative side given the speed at which the TV ecosystem and U.S. broadband landscape are evolving.”