ESPN, using Nielsen data, says cord-cutting is a 'very minor' nuisance

Disney-owned ESPN says it's now convinced that cord cutting is only a minor nuisance, and that cord cutting is really just cord swapping: cable subscribers switching to IPTV or satellite offerings.

The company told the New York Times that, according to data from TV ratings service Nielsen, only one-tenth of 1 percent of viewers were actually cutting the cord.

"We got a little worn out reading headline after headline saying, 'Cord-cutting, it's a disaster; young people are abandoning TV.' For our strategic purposes, we needed to know what was really going on," said Glenn Enoch, ESPN's VP for integrated media research. Nevertheless, Enoch said ESPN would revisit the Nielsen data quarterly to monitor the trend.

The data is from the same households Nielsen uses to create its television ratings. And, as the Times points out, "it comes as little surprise that the Nielsen sample found that among heavy and medium viewers of sports, the research showed what Mr. Enoch called "zero cord-cutting."

In the past two quarters, cable TV subscribers have defected at a record rate, with some 741,000 leaving in Q3 and 714,000 in Q2. During the same period, TelcoTV and satellite TV numbers have grown. But analysts say that the fact that there has been a net loss in the pay-TV industry is disturbing, and say that this quarter could be a bell weather.   

"It is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss the impact of over-the-top substitution on video subscriber performance," said Ian Olgeirson, a senior analyst with research firm SNL Kagan, "particularly after seeing declines during the period of the year that tends to produce the largest subscriber gains due to seasonal shifts back to television viewing and subscription packages.

"I would be surprised if in December we see another negative quarter... of course we were saying that in the second quarter about the third quarter as well. But, if we do, then operators can't continue to use the broadcast transition to digital as an excuse as a real source of churn. We'll have a better sense of how deeply the cord cutting really is affecting the space."

For more:
- see this Times article
- see this release

Related articles:
SNL Kagan analyst: Can't ignore OTT, cord cutting pressure on pay TV
Apple TV, connected TVs create more cord-cutting worries for pay-TV industry
Verizon's Seidenberg sees cord cutting as cable's undoing
Comcast dismisses cord-cutting threat
DirecTV CEO: Cord cutting not an issue for us
Making sport of cord-cutting numbers is, well, not very sporting