Sling TV, Vue and other OTT platforms blur cord-cutting measurements

Sling TV

As MVPDs and programmers try to take stock after record volumes of pay-TV subscriber attrition in the second quarter, the emergence of OTT-delivery platforms including Sling TV and Sony PlayStation Vue is obscuring precise measurements of the damage.

“The most widely used tracking device [are] Nielsen’s estimates of cable network subscribers, which is not actually a true count of paid subscribers. It’s an estimate.” said MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett. “And the statistics don’t include new OTT distributors like Sling and Sony Vue, which at this point, may represent over 800,000 subscribers…”

The analyst found that Nielsen’s measurement of second-quarter subscriber attrition for Discovery Networks was off by as much as 80 basis points.

“Nielsen’s subscriber counts should not be used as gospel for those looking for actual counts — especially for those programmers that have networks carried by new OTT platforms.”

There are other factors obscuring the actual declines, Moffett pointed out. 

The fact that programmers are paid by MVPDs on a 30 to 90-day delay also contributes to the inaccuracy.

As Moffett noted, using Nielsen’s data, first-quarter subscribers increased for Turner Networks channels by 0.2 percent, far out of line with the 2 percent decline ultimately reported by parent company Time Warner Inc.

The implications are more relevant with subscriber counts for programming networks drawing particular scrutiny. As Moffett noted, with networks being left out of skinny bundles offered by operators including Dish Network and Verizon FiOS, programmers like Discovery are seeing major quarterly shifts in their subscriber numbers.

The volatility is further compounded by consolidation — AT&T’s migration of its video subscriber base from U-verse to DirecTV, for example, explains recent much of the subscriber loss for Scripps Networks Interactive.

“The weakness seen at Scripps in the second quarter was in part due to the loss of AT&T U-verse subs (which has more Scripps channels on big basic tiers) to the DirecTV platform (which has more Scripps channels on digital tiers.)"

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