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Did the Pay TV Guys Stay Flat Last Year -- Or Lose More Than a Million Subscribers?

"Cord cutting appears to have accelerated markedly," says analyst Craig Moffett, a former cord cutting skeptic.

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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.

Pay-TV providers have reported their fourth-quarter numbers, and it looks like the pay-TV business stayed flat last year, even as options for video watchers get more varied and plentiful.

Not so fast, says analyst Craig Moffett: He thinks the pay-TV business lost 1.4 million subscribers in the last year. “Cord cutting appears to have accelerated markedly,” the MoffettNathanson analyst writes.

Moffett — who used to dismiss the idea of cord cutting but changed his mind a couple years ago — argues that looking at pay-TV subscription totals (which went up by about 100,000 last quarter) on their own doesn’t paint the full picture.

His analysis of the market also includes the number of occupied homes in the U.S., which jumped dramatically in the last 12 months. And since “new household formation” used to mean “more pay TV subscribers” but doesn’t seem to mean that anymore, Moffett is chalking that up as a loss for the TV guys.

Moffett doesn’t try to figure out which of those non-TV subscribers are people who used to pay for TV but stopped (cord cutters), or 20-somethings that have never signed up for pay TV in the first place (cord nevers).

The TV Industrial Complex, which used to deny that either group existed in any form, now talks openly about the second group, the theoretical targets of Web TV services like Sling TV and HBO’s upcoming a la carte service.

One of the problems for the TV guys is that those same Web TV services may also encourage people to stop paying for traditional TV — even if they tell themselves otherwise.

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