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Cord “shaving” is the new cord-cutting

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

You’ve heard of cable cutters, those who are foregoing their televisions and subsisting on Netflix and Hulu Plus binges instead.  About 19% of U.S. households live without cable. But now, according to a report out by Nielsen with added analysis by The Wall Street Journal, it’s not just cord cutters that pay-TV companies have to watch out for, it’s also cable shavers. The most popular cable channels are finding their subscriber numbers falling as Americans buy cheaper and more basic cable packages. ESPN, Disney, CNN, Nickelodeon and Food Network are just some of the major channels that have seen a significant decline in their reach over the past four years.

Since 2010 the top 40 distributed cable channels have seen a loss of 3.2 million subscribers, or more than 3% of their business. Pay-TV in general lost 166,000 subscribers last year. Basic cable plans that include mostly broadcast channels now account for 12% of all paid-TV, up from 8% in years past. AT&T’s chief strategy officer John Stankey told The Wall Street Journal that he believes, “cord-shaving is a reality going forward.”

“People are clearly pushing back against the price hikes we’ve seen from the cable industry that are phenomenally faster than inflation,” says Yahoo Finance tech reporter Aaron Pressman. Large cable packages can cost over $100 per month while the most basic cost between $10 and $50.

Pressman says that cable channels believe the Nielsen numbers are overstated. Even if the numbers are correct, says Pressman, “they keep saying, ‘look we’re raising our prices so we’re making a lot more revenue and it’s not that important if we lose a few percent of the audience here and there.’”

Cable companies are also aiming new packages at Millennials that provide things like HBO, high-speed Internet and basic cable for a low price, which has been appealing to people who might not otherwise take on cable.