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Cord-Cutting Is Here, but It's Not Big (Yet)

The pay TV guys report another down quarter. But not by much.

Shutterstock / Luis Carlos Torres
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The TV Industrial Complex used to insist that cord-cutting was a myth, but over the last few years that has changed: To varying degrees, TV executives are willing to acknowledge that some people really have stopped paying for TV subscriptions — or never started.

You’ll hear various estimates for the size of this audience — Time Warner Inc.’s executives, who used to insist this group didn’t exist, now pegs it at 10 million people, and uses it as the rationale for its upcoming HBO Web service.

But no matter how big that group is, it’s not growing very quickly. Most of America still watches TV via a cable, satellite or telco service, and those numbers are holding pretty steady.

Here’s the latest update, via MoffettNathanson’s quarterly roundup of the big pay-TV companies’ publicly reported numbers. It shows that the industry collectively lost 179,000 subscribers in the last three months, a 0.1 percent decline. The major change is that the cable guys, who used to lose subscribers to the TV and satellite guys, are seeing their losses slow.

As you’ll note, the industry has been bumping around like this for a few years now. Growth has stopped, but we haven’t seen the business fall off a cliff, the way that the music and print businesses did after the Internet overturned their business models.

And maybe it never will — perhaps the business just slowly changes, over a very long period.

Or perhaps it is coming in the near future. TV ratings started mysteriously shrinking this summer, and one theory is that those eyeballs are now owned by Netflix and other Web TV services. Meanwhile, a whole slew of video subscription services — everyone from HBO to Web TV stars — are coming, and will put more pressure on the TV Industrial Complex.

Keep watching — and sign up for Code/Media 2015, where we are going to spend a lot of time talking about all of this.

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