Cable Subscriber Numbers Begin Slide

TV sports
TV sports

The number of U.S. households paying for TV service is expected to fall slightly in 2012, from 100.9 million in 2011 to 100.8 million. While not a big dive in itself, if the forecast turns out to be correct, 2012 will be the first year ever that cable subscriptions have posted a decline.

The data comes from research firm TDG, which predicts that pay-TV subscriptions will fall to below 95 million by 2017. Again, a 5% decline is not the apocalypse, but the implications of the decline are worth noting.

Cable and satellite companies continue to insist on selling subscription bundles that contain channels of only limited interest to many subscribers. Rather than pay average charges that now approach $90 a month, more viewers are choosing to "cut the cord" and take advantage of over-the-top streaming of favorite shows and movies.

And cable companies often require that consumers have a cable password to gain access to channels on mobile devices or set-top boxes. This requirement, too, chills adoption of streaming video and essentially forces consumers to stick with their cable provider if they want to see the latest episode of a favorite TV show.

Given all that, it is very likely that a 5% drop in pay-TV subscriptions over the next five years won't be enough to persuade cable operators to give customers the a la carte pricing many have sought for years.

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