Where Are All The Cord Cutters?

A few days ago TechCrunch proclaimed that, “275,000 Comcast subscribers cut the cord last quarter.” And, indeed, a ton of customers fired Comcast. Yet, it’s not quite clear how many of these folks actually “cut the cord” versus jumping to a competing service such as Verizon’s FiOS TV… who report a net addition of 204,000 digital television subscribers for the same quarter. Or DISH Network,¬†that report over 700k net subscriber additions during the last three quarters.

There’s certainly a number of people who are choosing to give up premium television services, for a variety of reasons (personal finances, perceived value, content selection, Internet alternatives, Xbox Live) but I’m not quite sure the tally is as dramatic as many would have us believe. Not yet, anyway.

Beyond my blog associates, I don’t know of a single friend or family member who has cut the cord. Although, I’m aware of several who’ve dumped Comcast and Cox in favor of FiOS TV. The concept of cutting the cord is certainly tempting, exacerbated¬†by Cox’s inability to support their SDV Tuning Adapters and their voluntary CCI Byte lockdown, but the over-the-top options aren’t quite there for me. Especially when it comes to sports and news.

What about you — did you cut the cord, know anyone who has?

(via Hacking Netflix)

34 thoughts on “Where Are All The Cord Cutters?”

  1. We “cut the cord” when I went back to graduate school and we were both living off my student stipend. Two years later, we certainly have the money to afford cable, but we made the decision not to get it. We use a combo of Netflix on the PS3 and Hulu on a nearby iMac (plus a little bit of torrenting and broadcast) to fill our TV needs. I haven’t had cable for two years now, and I can’t say I miss it that much. I miss certain shows that aren’t easily available online (mainly TLC and Food Network shows) but TV is much less central to our lives now. I know our experience isn’t typical; we may have been poor, but we’re also over-educated, and figuring out the technical workarounds needed to “cut the cord” wasn’t that challenging for us. We also still live in a fairly small apartment, where the iMac is close enough to the TV that we can just turn it around to face the couch whenever we need some Hulu or other Internet video.

  2. In other words, it’s not that the ‘kill your television’ types have won their war against passive video entertainment, it’s simply that we’re getting our brains washed via new and exciting methods!

    I cut the cord every year after bowl season. Then I re-up in August. When the SEC unwinds itself from the broadcasting networks, I’ll be done with ‘the cord’ for good.

  3. Rich, when I lived a single life early in the decade and cable was simpler (analog, no box required) I too only subscribed during college football season. I don’t live alone these days, plus getting CableCARDs turned back on is a bitch hassle (with a $30 per TV fee for now) that I’m not willing to mess with. :)

  4. Not yet. I think seriously about it about once every three months, but then I look at the hassles the less technical members of my family would have to go through, and I put the idea on the back shelf. Right now, all audio and video at our home theatre set-up is directed from only two control points a) the TiVo HD (with Comcast cable and OTA, plus internet feeds, such as Pandora, plus iTunes) and b) the Blu-ray player. This is already taxing some users. To add more complexity, even if it saved $50 a month would not be appreciated around here. We also watch a fair bit of HBO, and Food network, and those are still most easily obtained via Cable or Satellite (or FIOS, in areas lucky enough to have it).

  5. I cut the cord about 5 years ago. At the time had a > $100 a month cable bill. Like Andrew, there are a few channels I miss. I catch Daily Show a bit later on the web, but between more than enough content over the air, downloaded TiVo content and Netflix, I don’t keep up with everything I’d like to watch and I don’t want to spend even more time in front of the TV. And to add to it, my TV OTA looks better than all my friends with cable/satellite/etc. No regrets, no plans to go back. Had to cut it to realize I won’t miss it. BTW, the reason I cut Comcast was not the $$ and not the lack of appreciation for what I was getting, it was horrible service.

  6. One thing to keep in mind is that the last quarter is typically the strongest quarter for pay television. This means that even if the industry breaks even, things are probably pretty bleak. If they are treading water during peak demand, then it’s a pretty good guess that the paytv industry will lose subscribers as demand softens. It’s also worth pointing out that even if Dish has gained 750,000 subscribers this year, that Comcast has lost over 600,000 subscribers during the same period. At the minimum I think we can say that cord cutting won’t be good for cable.

  7. Could the Comcast-NBC buyout be the next AOL-Time Warner deal? Pipe company (purported to be in decline) buying media company. Ultimately I think much of the subscriber numbers come down to how many options are there for getting tv. Currently in most markets there are 4, right? OTA, Cable, Sattelite, U Verse. Some areas add FIOS. I would bet eventually the wireless companies will offer something too.

  8. So far people haven’t been cutting the cord in any meaningful numbers and I suspect even when they do, many end up resubscribing. The reality of the situation is that with all the bundles and our strong reliance on internet access, cable TV is a whole lot of programming for the money. I suspect it’ll continue to be the best value, especially now that there is more competition. But until there is real competition everywhere, we won’t see a real price war.

    My question is, when is this great channel expansion going to stop? I mean at one point we’ll see a shift to VOD from linear and it hasn’t even happened yet.

  9. I switched to Comcast Limited Basic service last quarter. It is cheaper than the upcharge on Comcast Internet if you do not maintain TV service. The limited basic service is essentially just the local channels. I would consider myself a cord cutter, but this switch probably doesn’t show up in these numbers. Netflix, ESPN3.com, and a Slingbox on FiOS service at a relatives house are my media outlets. $59.95 + fees for standard definition Comcast Digital Starter on a single television was a very poor value in my opinion. I can’t get a dish, and there is no FiOS or UVerse service in my area.

  10. We cut the cable (television) cord in early September after the birth of our son – but we had been thinking about it for a while. We are fortunate to live in an area with good OTA reception and I must say, it’s kind of refreshing to flip on tivo guide and have the whole thing take up only 1 page. No vertical scrolling!

    We don’t watch a lot of cable television. We downloaded Mad Men and I will do the same for Breaking Bad, probably. We stream some old series’ on Netflix and have a couple others we might get DVD’s from Netflix for.

    The hardest part for me is the NBA. I live “in market” for my favorite team, so NBA League Pass broadband is still subject to blackouts for me. Last night I tested a work around though – I set up an EC2 instance, opened a SOCKS proxy to it, and then tunneled my Firefox traffic through it. I was able to watch my home team that way and the EC2 charge was only $0.12.

    Sure, downloads of Mad Men and skirting blackouts via proxy might seem too “black hat” for some folks, but I have no ethical qualms with it. I’m happy to AMC directly for thir content when they decide to let me and I’m a paying NBA league pass broadband customer and have no qualms subverting their blackout rules.

  11. @Ben – Sure if you simply look at hours of programming available in a day, cable teleivision *IS* a whole lot of programming for the money. The problem is that much of that programming is complete and utter garbage. I was surprised by how little I missed it.

    When you further consider that much of the non-garbage programming is available live via OTA, or delayed by a season via Netflix then the cable tv value equation takes yet another hit.

    I recently read that sports programming accounts for roughly 40% of the cost of your cable bill. Now, I’m a sports fan so that doesn’t bug me much. Those of you who aren’t sports fans should be fired up about subsidizing the rest of us, though!

  12. Until a year ago I had the extended basic cable package plus Internet service from one provider and DirecTV, mainly for the NBA and NFL packages. I used the DirecTV service in the master bedroom and media room, cable everywhere else. Combined I was paying ~ $225/month. While I could afford it, I didn’t think it was enough bang for my buck. In the last year I got rid of DirecTV, downgraded cable to basic, purchased a couple more Rokus (four total now) and a new Apple TV and upgraded my Internet from the 12 Mbps to 20 Mbps service. Now I am paying ~ $90/month and couldn’t be happier.

    Accessibility to sports and some stations for the wife (HGTV, Bravo, etc.) is all the keeps me holding on to cable at all. If I was single, I believe I could live without the sports (I can always find a sports bars that broadcasts the games I want to see) and make a go out of going without cable completely. With the emergence of solutions like Roku (Netflix, Amazon, MLB, Pandora, Hulu Plus soon, etc.), I think a lot of folks are like me…we haven’t cut the cord, but it has been nicked.

    I’m not willing to say there is going to come a point in the immediate future where people start completely cutting the cord en masse; however, nothing stays the same, including the television/entertainment industry. How we access content is changing and the landscape will look different five, six years from now.

  13. Not only did i cut the cord, i cut fios.

    I bought a hi VHF antenna combined it with a UHF antenna, put it on the roof, ran it to the 3 tivos and I get about 50 channels with 90 to 100% strength.

    With a few cable shows, they are torrented and pushed automatically to the tivos when they are releases without any human intervention.

    To augment the setup, netflix, espn3 and a slingbox at my dads. I have tv shows and movies ripped into iTunes where I can access them with 2 apple tvs or via the tivos with streambaby.

    I could certainly afford it, but why should I? There are other methods to do it for free or for cheap netflix subscription.

    I rather put the $100 a month I am saving into my 401k.

  14. I cut the cord(or dumped the dish) back in 2009 when my then girlfriend and I realized that we were paying $80 a month for something we used less than 40 hours a month and even that was as background noise. We do quite nicely with DVD seasons, netflix disk and streaming and a little bit of OTA recording and playback when we want to watch something specific. About the only thing I miss is being able to flip to Discovery or TLC and let it run as background noise.

    I will admit that without a sagetv box and a roku, this would have had a much much lower WAF(Wife Acceptance Factor), but with those she has no issues.

  15. I dropped Comcast in San Jose several months ago. The cost had escalated to $65 for standard cable with no premium channels. I had dropped down to limited basic ($15) but then they even raised that to almost $20. For a while I was getting a bunch of the channels in clear QAM, but then they plugged that hole by scrambling them all.

    So now I use a small hi-VHF/UHF antenna (Winegard 7696) in my attic and get all the SF Bay Area stations in HD for free. The HD quality is excellent, better than I’ve seen when I visit friends who have DirecTV. I TiVo almost everything, and rarely watch live TV. That plus Netflix gives me more content than I could ever possibly watch. I even pick up Jon Stewart’s Daily Show on a one day delay via ComedyCentral online, although it was much better quality when it was on Hulu.

    I don’t miss Comcast at all.

  16. I cut BHN’s digital tv cord about a year and a half ago. I still pay them for internet and phone though. All my viewing entertainment content comes from my antenna or the internet (Netflix, Amazon, Blockbuster, etc.)

  17. It sounds appealing to trim the cost out of the monthly budget but the alternatives aren’t ready for prime time yet. Limited (and pricey) options for live sports online. Limited children’s programming online. For many people, most devices (Roku, AppleTV, Google, Boxee) lack one or more shows that they want to watch. And television seasons come out much later on DVD or Netflix, so you miss the watercooler conversations about what happened last night on some program – particularly if you’re into reality TV.

  18. I don’t think a cord cut is in the future for me at all really. Our home has horrible OTA reception. Our cable TV package is reasonable for the amount of content we get, and it is SIMPLE. Setting a Season Pass on TiVo is just dead simple. If my not so technical savoy wife had to watch her shows via Hulu on her laptop, or pay per episode for something I’d hear about it all the time.

    Comcast + TiVo just works.

  19. I was paying $110 for TWC and watched only 2-3 channels, including Fox Soccer. Since most of the shows we watch are aired by major networks it really made no sense to keep the whole package. We settled for basic service. Unfortunately OTA in our area has a terrible reception, so we had to stick to QAM. In addition ever since I build our HTPC, we stopped watching live TV. I have to say, that until I cut the cord on FSC, I did not realize how much soccer and other sports are available online (ESPN3, Fox Soccer TV, UEFA.com, Veetle). With VPN I can watch BBC IPlayer or Sky. From Usenet I can get shows I missed, even the most obscured. For streaming we use Netflix, Boxee app and PlayOn.

    I strongly believe this trend will continue. Some people may perceive this as too complicated, however with proper training an explanation even the most challenged can use their computers to access content online in one form or the other.

  20. Haven’t cut the cord so far. Moved to a new place and have triple-pay U-Verse, so price is pretty decent. Will evaluate options after my next move though. Sports networks (for live broadcasts) and some more obscure shows not on Usenet would be my top two concerns.

    Ironically, my mom is the one who kind of cut the cord. I got her an IPTV box that gets our native, Russian, broadcasts and she pretty much watches that. For about $20/mo, you get 110 channels (incl. some with HD movies), 14-day archive of most important channels, and free VOD (upcoming on her service, monthly fee on other services).

    That functionality is something I’d really love over here, for US channels, but not going to happen. Heck, cable companies can’t even convince networks to allow cloud DVR services. Lame :(

  21. We cut the Comcast cord earlier this year and have not looked back. We realized we were being suckers. We found a way to get EVERYTHING we want including realtime TV shows and sports via Internet options for no cost or nearly no cost.

    We were sick and tired of paying almost $100/month to get LOUSY so-called “high definition” (Hey you Comcast Gestapo: 480p and some 720i ain’t HiDef !!!), teency weency DVR storage on a proprietary box with zero archiving or exporting, an on-demand-video inventory that was way overpriced, way too small and way underquality and the infuriating frustration or NOT getting a majority of the sports we actually want to watch and instead getting 200+ channels of junk programming we almost never wanted to watch.

    My youngest kid groaned about not have the Disney Channel for about a week until we showed her that she can get EVERY Disney Channel Show she wants and a whole lot more she wants even more via Netflix on her Wii. She now prefers to watch slightly older Disney programs on the Wii because she can watch entire seasons of episodes one right after the other without having to wait a week or suffer through commercials.

    Netflix dominates most of viewing now. We get nearly all the programs we want from Netflix that we can play on any of three devices that are permanent equipment in the family room such as the Blu-ray player, TV monitor and Wii.

    And for the rest, there are SO MANY realtime TV series and sports options through Android devices and PCs connected to the Internet that you’d have to be a sucker to continue paying for them — from any cable, satellite or other “provider”.

    Yo Comcast: Hope you enjoy your new home in the same neighborhood as Hollywood Video and Blockbuster.

  22. @Ivan Y

    “Cloud DVR services” (namely RS-DVR or network DVR) are coming. The Supreme Court ruled that they were legal a while back (well, indirectly by not hearing the lower court ruling). Cablevision is in the middle of a ramp up on their deployment. Others will follow. But American cable moves glacially slowly so don’t be surprised if it all takes years to appear…

    To some of the others… the reason you can get things for ‘free’ via torrents and other means is that most people continue to pay. If enough people stopped paying and switched to torrents too, regardless of the moral issues, the networks would stop producing the content and there wouldn’t be anything to watch. I’d be careful encouraging everybody to follow in your footsteps.

    No plan to drop cable any time soon, but am dropping channels. With more on demand options I see little reason to pay for ‘premium’ movie channels. I’ve already dropped HBO and will consider dropping Showtime if Dexter doesn’t get better soon…

    I guess one obvious question is why only 19% of Americans get their TV over the air. I haven’t seen any studies on how many of the cable/satellite subscribers COULD get a reasonable set of locals OTA and simply subscribe because they want access to the other channels (ESPN, Food Network, etc). I wonder what that number is?

    Interesting number at http://www.ncta.com/statistics.aspx says that we paid 33.3 cents per hour of cable TV watched in 2009. With Americans watching about 5 hours a day of TV, that assumes the average cable bill is $50. And that’s with ads. I assume that anybody who is getting by paying Amazon or iTunes for their shows is doing it for W-A-Y fewer hours of TV than the average American watches.

  23. I have small children. I’d be fine with the cord cut, but 24/7 access to 3 channels of kids shows (not used 24/7, but available) is not something we want to give up. We could DVR kids shows from PBS (Wordgirl and Curious George are pretty good for adults), but we get value from our comcast relationship. Just need to call them every now and again to stay on promos.

  24. In our home I run 4 HTPCs networked to a NAS, a Wii with Netflix and a Samsung Bluray and TV both with apps including Vudu and Hulu Plus. I’ve run an OTA HD antenna to the HTPCs which turns them into free TiVos. I’m an expat which means I stream a lot of home country TV over the internet. You’d think if *anyone* was going to cut the $100 a month cord, it would be me. But no. Why not? Sports and a few cable channel addictions like Tru TV, and this sneaking feeling we’d miss stuff we want to see. Plus downright inertia and laziness. As long as people like me who have no good reason not to cut the cord won’t do it, there’s no way there’s going to be a mass movement in that direction.

  25. I’m cutting the cord THIS WEEK! I just got my TiVo Premiere (upgrading from a 2) and will be happy with Digital OTA and Netflix and an old AppleTV. Saving about $40 a month doing so. I’ll miss some ESPN, FoodTV and cable news, but those things are not worth $40 a month. I’m hopeful, and confident, that in a year or two there will be a lot more options for me to get a lot more programming (more mature AppleTV, GoogleTV, Boxee, etc.)

  26. I cut the cord in 2008 and have relied on HTPC with OTA plus ROKU and Netflix since then. I still use DSL from AT&T (gasp!) which means I qualify for ESPN3. I use the ROKU most of the time for Netflix rather than the HTPC simply because the interface and video quality are superior.

    Once the costs of the HTPC and ROKU were amortized (a personal budget calculation) my costs are $10 per month for Netflix plus ~$35 for DSL and that’s it. I used to pay over $60 for Comcast Extended Basic in addition to that. A purist mad accountant might suggest including the utility costs in the calculation but I consider that a little too nit-picky.

    Yes, there are plenty of things that are far from ideal in this solution but it works ok for me at least at the moment partly because I have the technical ability and patience to put up with it. I can appreciate that this approach would not work for the mainstream household. My general concern is that I’m relying on Netflix’s ability to negotiate and maintain content deals with providers who are actively concerned about the drain (actual or perceived) from their mainstay revenue sources and are already experimenting with new ways of retaining control (witness the recent Hulu/Google TV debacle – just ‘cos you’re big in your market doesn’t mean you’re big in theirs…).

    However, while I think we are a long way from a stable solution for the marketplace, the die has been cast. VOD and cafeteria style entertainment solutions are the wave of the future. Being stuck with the channel setup controlled and priced by the local cable or satellite provider will eventually change. Providers that don’t keep up will expire. Innovation and experimentation will continue for the foreseeable future. Ultimately a solution set that works for the majority of the populace will be found.

  27. I cut the cord awhile back after we lost a big chunk of income do to work problems, I actually liked my cable company. I was lucky that several factors came together,
    in that I had high speed internet which i still needed for my job. I had a digital tuner from when we couldn’t get the CW affiliate in high def on cable and i had a Tivo that could record from it. I also happened to have a indoor antenna that worked well after the digital transition.
    Things I have found out, that there is a lot which can be found on the web for free legally but streaming can be erratic, you can have fast internet but too many people streaming a free site can bog things down at the other end.
    If you are multiple sports fan you need cable,and if you watch hockey keep your cable now don’t even think of dropping it, if you watch a lot of Bravo,HGTV, and Food Network you need cable.
    Remember if you really want to cut the cord that means cable and internet (otherwise you are just trading one for the other).
    If you’re broke get minimum cable and ditch the internet and if your tv doesn’t have a digital tuner definitely keep cable.
    Remember that free web content may shrink or disappear completely at some point.
    Lastly test out any alternatives for a while before doing anything drastic.

  28. Reasonable analysis at VideoNuze where they quote the SNL Kagan figures which combine cable/satellite/telco subscriber numbers. For Q2’10 these Pay TV companies lost 216,000 subscribers (cable lost 711,000 but most of those obviously went to satellite or telco). For Q3’10 these Pay companies gained 66,700:


    If you take Time Warner’s words at face value (they were on an analyst call) cable’s losses are actually worse with people who don’t have broadband than with those that do, and they see no increase in drop rate with young people, suggesting this is more of an economic issue than cord cutting. Time will tell of course.

  29. I cut the cord on cable about 10 years ago (2001) when I moved into my first apartment. There wasn’t much available online at that time, but I survived by watching DVDs on my PC and going to friends’ houses to watch football and other sports. At the time, I was saving for my wife’s engagement ring, and cable didn’t fit into my budget. After my wife and I were married, we found that we didn’t mind not having cable (or any TV at all for that matter). Over the years, it has become a lot easier to find TV content online, and now I would not even think of subscribing to cable again. The best part? I get to choose to watch only the shows that I really want to watch, and I don’t channel surf just because “nothing good is on”.

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