While many predicted that the future (and the demise) of the television industry would come in the form of dropped cable subscriptions, aka, cord cutting, it's not turning out that way. Rather, it looks like we will have two camps of TV-watching humans: Cord clingers and cord nevers, neither of whom are enthusiastic about the state of things. Cord clingers, or as Variety's Andrew Wallenstein puts it, "cord cuddlers" (we opted to use a different term because cords aren't very cuddly to us), are people who because of inertia or some other reluctance haven't ditched their pay TV. Then there are our cord nevers, young people who don't have cable now and will never feel the need to get cable. The question is, which group will outnumber the other?
Numbers from the cable industry show that the big operators aren't losing subscribers, but rather have flat growth, which is where our clingers come in. Analysts expect that 419,000 video subscribers will ditch pay TV this quarter. Those numbers aren't huge compared to the millions of people with cable, so it's hard to cry a huge cord-cutting trend—though some people are giving it up. While the cable industry would like to think people are happy with the current set-up, Wallenstein suggests this lack of cord-cutting has more to do with inertia, pointing to a PriceWaterhouseCooper consumer loyalty survey from this summer. "Nearly three out of four surveyed indicated they had no plans to change providers in the next year, and 59% hadn't bothered switching providers within the past year, which PwC chalked up to complacency," he writes. Once you have cable, it's easier not to switch, especially once it is bundled with Internet, the theory goes. Another survey from Digitalsmiths paints a more dismal picture, finding that 38 percent of "satisfied" cable customers said they would consider switching in six months. Of course, saying you want to switch is a lot different than actually calling up the cable company and canceling the thing. These people are clingers, after all.
The Verizon FiOs numbers, however, complicate this theory. The company's Q3 earnings from today show the service has added 119,000 video customers. It's not clear these are completely new sign ups: These people could have substituted their old Comcast (or whatever) subscription for the high-speed Internet plus video package. Once the other cable companies put out this quarter's earnings, we will see where these FiOs sign-ups fit.
Right now, the cord clingers might seem powerful. But depending on their demographic and the way the Internet TV landscape changes, the cord nevers might prove more dangerous. And the cord nevers are supposedly young (the future). So presumably they will outlive the cord clingers, assuming they are true cord nevers who never see the benefit of a television package. Meanwhile, if the Internet comes up with something good enough, maybe these lazy cord-clingers will get over their complacency and cut the cord.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.