For Cable, Funeral Came Before Death

What social media analytics can tell us about cord cutting and the future of TV

There’s no denying it: consumers are ditching cable in record numbers.

In the third quarter of 2015, the cable industry lost 486,000 subscribers. A year later, it was another 486,000. To put that number in perspective, that means that cable companies lost close to 2,600 users a day. In the same period, Nielsen data suggests, the number of over-the-air and broadband-only households grew by 2.5 million

This will come as a surprise only to those who weren’t paying attention to users who took their complaints to social media.

Experts have been portending the end of TV since 2011 but cable companies didn’t have to take their word for it, their users bid goodbye as they left.

And the companies didn’t give them enough reasons to stay.

 

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In 2011, Time Warner Cable upset users by pulling 11 channels including Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, Discovery Channel and the National Geographic from its iPad app, barely a month after its launch. Little changed two years after when the company dropped CBS and Showtime from its line-up over fee disputes.

Interestingly, during that period, Time Warner’s residential-television subscriptions dropped 3% while broadband subscriptions grew 15%.

Could Time Warner have seen this coming? Crimson Hexagon’s social insights on cord cutting conversations says so.

Cable’s funeral on social

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So what cues could social media have given about cord cutters? The short answer is, a lot.

What can social tell us about cord cutting?

Users turned to social media for tutorials on ‘how to’ cut the cord. The bulk of the conversations about cord cutting were tutorials, guides, tips and tricks on how to ditch cable.

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But there are more lessons here: in addition to talking about how to cut the cord, consumers on social frequently talked about why to cut the cord: expensive subscriptions for less than desirable content.

And their concerns were valid. In 2013, two Senate Democrats pointed out that the cable industry makes more than $19.5 billion a year from set-top box rentals alone.

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Three years ago, one in ten households cut the cord, and in 2016, that became one in five households and studies show that by 2025, half the adults under the age of 32 will not pay for TV.

The appeal of non-cable services was clear — quality content, uninterrupted streaming without commercials, the flexibility of ‘on-demand’ content and only paying for what you use. Streaming services in their part, have been scrappy about riding this wave, each scrambling for a bigger piece of the pie. In Q4 2016, Netflix added 7.05 million subscribers, its largest-ever growth.  Apple recently brought in the head of Amazon Fire TV to overhaul their strategy and Sling TV is wooing users by offering free streaming.

Even as it seems like cable has been dying a slow, prolonged death, some bigger players like Time Warner have managed to keep their head above water by squeezing pay-TV providers like Comcast. At Turner, Time Warner’s cable division, subscription revenue grew 14 percent in Q4 2016. This is in light of the company’s impending sale to AT&T for $105 billion. It’s not that hard to peg the winners and losers of this race.

In the coming weeks, we will dive deeper into the social buzz surrounding non-cable or subscription video on demand (SVoD) services and who rules the roost there.

To learn more about these conversations, read our full report on entertainment trends in US consumer conversations.

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