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What Happened to the Cord Cutters?

Pay TV is still shrinking, but not as fast as before.

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.

Netflix, YouTube, Apple TV and the Internet at large are supposed to kill off pay TV … someday. But right now, pay TV seems like it is doing okay: Cord-cutting, which was supposed to accelerate with help from tech disrupters, looks like it may be slowing down.

New data from analysts MoffettNathanson shows that the pay-TV business lost about 300,000 subscribers in Q2. But that’s basically flat compared to a year ago, and that’s a change from the year-on-year declines of the previous few quarters.

And after factoring in the housing market — a key driver for pay TV — the research firm concludes that “it appears that cord cutting slowed to an annualized rate of 400k homes, a meaningful deceleration and well below the peak (but still modest) rates of cord cutting seen in 2012.”

cord cutting q2 moffett nathanson

It’s still hard to look at those numbers — and the world around you — and conclude that the pay-TV business is in great shape. Revenue is growing, but that’s because current subscribers are still willing to shoulder rate increases, and that certainly doesn’t seem sustainable.

That’s one of the reasons the pay-TV guys are working on “skinny” TV offerings, where consumers pay a smaller fee for a smaller group of channels, in the hope of keeping customers or adding new ones. That describes both the “HBO+plus a couple dozen channels” packages that Comcast*, AT&T and Verizon are selling, as well as the $30-a-month package Dish Network wants to sell over the Web.

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is an investor in Re/code.

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