A convenient mythos has evolved around the cord-cutting movement that really came into its own beginning in 2015. The groupthink goes: “Cord-cutters are killing cable, and as a result, viewership numbers are down for sports across the board.”
The result, according to the Cassandras, is that the next round of television revenue will be drastically lower. The bubble will burst. The good times are over for everyone except, oddly enough, Fox/FS1.
But, that narrative isn’t quite right.
We’ve not begun the great cable die-off. Instead, we’ve merely skimmed our cable, and, in a lot of cases, added services that make more money for providers:
Since 2013, cable has gone from being in around 95 million homes to being in 92 million now. That’s a drop, but it’s hardly the death of an industry, though the trend should certainly worry pay-television providers.
If losses continue at this pace, then the industry will lose 3 million customers in 2018 — about the same amount it has dropped over the past five years. It’s not certain, however, that the trend will continue at that pace.
And, that trendline is correcting itself, it appears. If anything, more subscribers are adding streaming television services to the broadband subscriptions sold by the telecoms. In the past five years, less than three million cable subscribers were lost: 2,905,000. In that time, 12,500,000 streamers were added -- 2.21 million just for Sling and its included ESPN network.
So, no, this doesn’t foretell the death of cable. Rather, there is a modification; and more tellingly, there’s even the addition of product lines for many households.
Now, viewership and, for many conferences, ratings are down. Still, that’s not confined to eyeballs on screens — however you so define screens. There are fewer butts in seats across stadiums across the nation too. Yet, that’s a trend that actually predates cord-cutting.
The money is there; but there has to be the incentive on one hand to spend it and there must be a demonstrable demand to do so. It is up to the sports themselves to retain and grow their relevance. And, on the other hand, it is up to venues to make the experience worth attending.
For the oligarchs, that’s easy enough to do. They’re already selling themselves: viewership for nearly every bowl was up. That allegedly lamented all-SEC UGA-Alabama affair? 28.4 million homes...the third-highest rated championship game of the BCS/CFP era, and the 7th highest football game of the last 20 years.
For everyone else, it’s a matter of making a better product and providing a better experience. The market doesn’t grow forever, but that doesn’t mean that the good times are dying off any time soon, to the extent that you’re one of the big boys.
So, at least among the haves, the eyeballs are still there. The demand is still there, even if tapering back to its historic level of support. The have-nots are the ones that must improve their product and the ones that stand most to be hurt by allegedly lost revenue...but that’s not really our concern, is it?