Comcast Reports Drop in Cable Subscribers; Blames Economy

In a post this weekend, I wrote about how the cable tv industry was finally stepping towards the cliff. And we’d learn more today when Comcast, the largest U.S. cable operator, reported earnings. Well, the numbers are out, and it’s not a surprise.

275,000 Comcast subscribers cut the cord last quarter. Its subscriber count is down 3.5% from the same quarter last year. To be fair, some of that loss was offset by a gain in 219,000 digital cable subs. Revenue was up as customers bought higher priced bundles of tv, internet and phone service.

During the earnings call, Comcast blamed the drop on the lousy economy. Always a handy excuse. Sure, many people are struggling right now, and it makes sense that the high cost of cable is an expense they can no longer afford. Comcast said, based on exit interviews, only a ‘small number‘ seemed to cut the cord for over-the-air signals, and they are not planning to switch to internet tv alternatives.

Comcast’s exit interviews run counter to other reports. MediaMall Technologies, maker of PlayOn, digital media server software that let’s you watch over-the-top video on TV, says 30% of it’s customers have canceled cable after using its software. Perhaps they weren’t Comcast customers? MediaMall Technologies estimates its customer base saves $24 million a year in cable fees.

Boxee’s CEO made the point on CNBC yesterday that his box won’t necessarily lead to cord cutting. “Instead, it will usher in a generation of people that never get cable.” He predicts with Boxee, they won’t see the point in cable, just like young people don’t see the point in a landline phone.

The CEO of Verizon, Ivan Seidenberg made the same point last month, saying young people are “not going to pay for something they don’t need to.” He also says “over the top is going to be a pretty big issue for cable.”

Another company to keep an eye on is Clicker. It launched a year ago at TechCrunch50. Clicker bills itself as “the simple way to find, share and watch TV online.” Many viewers agree, based on feedback to my earlier post.

And one more thing. No, not Apple. Actually Yahoo. You don’t hear much about new products at Yahoo. It took the tech community 20 hours to notice Yahoo Mail’s first redesign in five years. But, 600 million user strong Yahoo has a product called Yahoo Connected TV, which gets you access to movies, tv shows, and other web services. It’s already built into TV’s from Samsung, Sony, LG, Vizio, and Toshiba. Crunchgear reviewed it last year.

I haven’t even touched on mobile and DVRs vs Live. Maybe a future post.
But, you can’t tell me cable tv is not an industry being disrupted. Not overnight, but now live on tv.