Since 2010, the top 40 most widely distributed cable channels have lost an average of 3.2 million subscribers, or 3 percent of their distribution. However, these networks' attrition doesn't match up with any overall decline in pay-TV usage, which despite a lot of sturm und drang, has only seen minimal sub loss.
The culprit, according to a story published Friday in the Wall Street Journal, is a new trend, "cord shaving," with consumers cutting back on their programming tiers, but not necessarily cutting the cord altogether.
(Editor's note: The "shaving" trend isn't exactly brand new--we identified it as a possible emerging behavior while toiling away in unappreciated obscurity at GigaOm back in 2012.)
A growing number of pay-TV subscribers, WSJ reports, are signing up for smaller, cheaper bundles of channels that cost in the range of $10 to $50 and don't include the priciest networks like ESPN and TNT, which have seen their distribution footprints drop 4 percent or more over the last four years.
"What we are seeing is some cord cutting and some cord shaving," said Stephen Hasker, global president of Nielsen, to WSJ. "Consumer time and attention is shifting."
Basic programming packages that include little more than broadcast channels now make up about 12 percent of pay-TV subscriptions in the U.S., up from 8 percent to 10 percent just a few years ago, the paper adds, after gathering the estimates of various industry executives.
"We think cord-shaving is a reality going forward," added John Stankey, AT&T's chief strategy officer.
Network audience numbers have fallen steadily since 2010. (Chart courtesy of WSJ)
- read this Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.)
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