Stat of the day: cable companies now actually have more Internet customers

New figures show cable companies now have more Internet customers than TV customers:

For the first time, the number of broadband subscribers with the major U.S. cable companies exceeded the number of cable subscribers, the Leichtman Research Group reported today. Among other things, these figures suggest the industry is now misnamed. Evidently these are broadband companies that offer cable on the side.

To be sure, the difference is minimal: 49,915,000 broadband subscribers versus 49,910,000 cable subscribers. But even assuming a huge overlap in those numbers from customers who have both, the primacy of broadband demonstrates a shift in consumer priorities. Nearly all the major cable companies added broadband subscribers over the past quarter, for a total of nearly 380,000 new signups. Cable subscribers don’t have to worry about TV as they know it going away any time soon. But cable is on its way to becoming secondary, the “nice to have” compared to the necessity of having broadband access…

The better margins boil down to the fact that broadband is purely about access, while cable is about content. The crux of the cable side of the cable business is hatching deals with the makers of sports, news, and entertainment so there’s something to send through the box. And the costs can be steep. ESPN, the most pricey by far, tops $5 per subscriber per month.

The temptation with these numbers is to see a decline in television but I don’t think this is necessarily the case. TV has had remarkable staying power over the decades (it doesn’t hurt that the technology keeps getting better with better picture and sound as well as lots more channels) and Americans continue to watch a lot of it, on average. The Internet offers different possibilities compared to TV: access to more specific information, interactions with other Internet users, and a less passive overall experience. They also can be consumed together, presenting intriguing potential for interactions between the two.

Perhaps the bigger story here are the larger profit margins with the Internet…

AP: “Cord cutting” is real

Associated Press is reporting its analysis that, for the first time ever, both cable and satellite providers fell:

The U.S. subscription-TV industry first showed a small net loss of subscribers a year ago. This year, that trickle has turned into a stream….The phone companies [Verizon and AT&T] kept adding subscribers in the second quarter, but Dish lost 135,000. DirecTV gained a small number, so combined, the U.S. satellite broadcasters lost subscribers in the quarter — a first for the industry.

I guess cord cutting is more real than some would like to believe

Internet competition

My friend Adam Holland pointed me over to Galen Gruman’s article at InfoWorld, which points to the problems that arise when carriers have considerable pricing power:

Users are being forced to sign up for separate data plans for each device. The cellular carriers advertise their data plans in data buckets, such as $25 for 2GB of iPad usage at AT&T and $20 for 1GB of iPad usage at Verizon Wireless. But you also pay separately for access on your iPhone or other smartphone. That means multiple-device users are asked to pay a lot more, forcing most to make a choice between the two.In both cases, the pricing is illogical and punitive. For their DSL and TV services, neither AT&T nor Verizon (half-owner of Verizon Wireless) charges per computer or per TV, but that’s what they’re doing for mobile devices.

Of course, I’m sure that both AT&T and Verizon would love to charge per computer/TV for home Internet use as well (and AT&T is currently in the process of instituting data caps on home users).  As with so many mobile and broadband ISP policy issues, the fundamental problem is that many ISP operate as monopolies or oligopolies.  Accordingly, there are only two major impediments to their pricing structure:

  1. Government regulation
  2. More competition

Government regulation is, of course, is notoriously tricky.  Indeed, it is often counter-productive as established ISPs use vast lobbying budgets in an attempt to regulate any new competitors out of existence.

But more competition is great when it’s possible, and, fortunately, sometimes new market entrants do appear with offerings that put pressure on established providers.  To use a personal example, my wife and I use a Clear Spot for our only Internet service here in the Boston area.  It’s not perfect (ping times are high), but it’s only about $50/month and is fast enough for high quality Netflix streaming.  Moreover, the Spot’s 4G interface/Wi-Fi router allows us to use the Internet within our apartment or anywhere within Clear’s 4G network.  Among other things, this means we can use an iPod Touch “on the go” (just like an iPhone) and “tether” both of our laptops (no additional fee) and connect up to five more Wi-Fi devices (eight total).

Best of all, because Clear’s service is wireless, we don’t have to subscribe to Comcast even though they are the only ISP providing service to our building.  Maybe that’s why they sent us a letter this past week offering cable+Internet for less than $60 a month indefinitely (not as a temporary promotional price).  I guess the market really does work when the market really does work.