Product Reviews
Take Action

Fight for Fair Finance

Tell the administration and Congress to stand up for the consumer watchdog that protects you from financial fraud and abuse.
Take Action
Why Do We Have Campaigns?
We're fighting to ensure you and your family can get a fair deal in the marketplace, especially on the choices that matter most: health care, privacy, automobiles, food, finances and more. Join our campaigns and together, we'll hold corporations and lawmakers accountable.

Are Americans really starting to cut the cable cord?

One report shows cable TV is hit the hardest in a decline in pay-TV subscribers

Published: March 20, 2014 11:45 AM

The availability of lower-cost streaming services may finally be starting to hit cable TV where it really hurts the most: pay TV subscriptions. That's one possible conclusion from the most recent estimates from the market research firm SNL Kagan, which says that in 2013, the pay-TV segment posted its first decline in annual subscriptions.

While the firm says that collectively all pay TV services—cable, satellite, and telco (traditional telephone companies that offer television service)—lost about a quarter of a million subscribers, cable operators took the hardest hit: They lost about 2 million customers, while satellite and telco TV services posted modest gains.

There are always seasonal fluctuations in pay TV service subscribers, but this is the first time that the number dropped over a full year. While there was an uptick in pay TV subscriptions across all types of providers at the end of the year, the last-quarter gain of about 40,000 subscribers—plus the yearly increases posted by satellite and telco companies—weren't enough to compensate for the number of cable subscribers who cut the cord.

TV service

Total subscribers (2013)

Loss/Gain in 2013

Cable TV (basic)

54.4 million

Lost 2 million subscribers

Satellite TV (DirecTV, DISH)

34.3 million

Gained 170,000 subscribers

Telco (AT&T U-verse, Verizon FiOS TV)

10.7 million

Gained 286,000 subscribers

Source: SNL Kagan

The interesting question, of course, is whether this is a one-year aberration, or real evidence of the much-talked-about cord-cutting trend, where more people are giving up traditional pay TV services in favor of getting their paid video entertainment exclusively from online streaming services, such as Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and Netflix. (More people also seem to be using antennas to get free over-the-air TV.)

Of course, some of the cable subscriber losses can be attributed to people switching to either satellite or telco TV services, which gained more than 450,000 new subscribers last year when you include some IPTV services from company's such as CenturyLink (PrismTV) and Consolidated Communications Holdings.

But there is also evidence that cable TV is fighting back with better equipment, and TV Everywhere services that let you view content on tablets and smart phones in and away from your house. There also seems to be a growing trend that more networks are asking for pay TV authentication before allowing you to view their shows online.

If you've been considering whether or not cutting the cord makes sense for you and you family, check back with us next week when we'll be posting a series of articles about how you can save money on your triple-play services—even if you decide not to cut the cord.

—James K. Willcox

Find Ratings

Streaming media players & services Ratings

View and compare all Streaming media players & services ratings.

Telecom services Ratings

View and compare all Telecom services ratings.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Electronics News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more