Nielsen’s cable universe estimates for April show a 1.7% decline in pay TV households but a bigger drop in subscribers for some cable network owners, according to analyst Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research.
To Wieser that suggests that while cord-cutting might not be the threat it was cracked up to be, cord shaving could be a bigger issue.
It appears to be a particularly serious issue for The Walt Disney Co., whose networks were down 3.6% in April after being down 3.6% in March, and for Viacom, which was down 3.1% for the second straight month.
“Affiliate fees are not necessarily impacted in the short-term as distributors will often be obliged to pay for certain minimum subscriber levels,” Wieser notes. “However, over longer time horizons we think that the trends captured by Nielsen are likely to be reflected in the subscriber numbers that programmers get paid for.”
Time Warner, Scripps Networks Interactive, NBCUniversal, Discovery and A+E Networks all showed declines in the 2% range. AMC was down 1.9% and 21st Century Fox was off just 0.9%. Crown Media Networks was up 10.8%.
Falling subscriber numbers have been a huge issue on Wall Street since Disney CEO Bob Iger said that a decline in subscribers at ESPN would me slower growth than expected for affiliate revenue. More recently, Iger suggested that he was seeing signs of an uptick.
But Wieser says Nielsen’s figures show individual networks fell between 5.4% for ESPNU and 2.2% for Disney Jr. (and that doesn’t count ESPN News and ESPN Classic which are no longer Nielsen rated.
At Viacom, declines ranged between 4.1% for CMT and 0.8% for Centric.
Other networks showing sizable drops were Discovery’s Science, falling 4.5% and NBCU’s MSNBC, off 4.3%.
The Nielsen numbers aren’t the ones media companies payments from cable operators are based on, but they are usually indicative of trends. Rather than using the actual numbers it gets from their distributors, programmers like Disney use the Nielsen numbers in their discussion with shareholders and in filing with the SEC.