Cord-Cutting: Wait, What?

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When Craig Moffett talks, many people hear and work by what emerges from this popular media-focused senior research analyst. In public or private, it takes something for Moffett to correct something offered on his record. The subject of cord-cutting provided an exception and Videonuze's VideoSchmooze: NYC meeting earlier this month offered the forum.

Without prompting from moderator/Schmooze organizer Wil Richmond, or fellow popular media analyst Bruce Leichtman, Moffett raked a widely-distributed report where he was quoted to suggest cord-cutting -- the drop of multichannel cable or satellite service -- was accelerating, especially among Millennials. As presented, Moffett appeared to be on the side of pundits predicting wholesale retreat by cable and satellite customers in favor of total broadcast or online video consumption.

That, Moffett left zero doubt, was not his call. "The math tells you otherwise," he said. "Cord-cutting is de-celerating, not accelerating. There's not a torrent of people cutting the cord. It's a trickle. There's no speeding-up." (The journalist got that view during Moffett's session for the story, and somehow, the opposite came out.)

What's more, Leichtman added, there's little research proving Millennials are mostly itching to cut their cable or satellite connection. Indeed, the research out lately (his own and work by Nickelodeon and various third parties) concludes that Millennials are watching more TV than a year ago. So are their children, according to the Nick report which came out before Thanksgiving.

"It's much more about economics than the desire for a video alternative out there," Leichtman said. In short, new affordable home formation where cable or satellite would be an essential service is not happening fast enough, or cable/satellite service is itself unaffordable. "When the cord is cut," mused Moffett, "people go for over-the-air TV service, instead of an online alternative."

The bottom line from both Moffett and Leichtman: Multichannel TV is not, or anywhere near, an imploding business, at least from breaking cords. Which leaves more than a few issues facing multichannel TV ahead: Rising consumer prices, advocacy for a la carte/unbundling and virtual multichannel competition, to name three.

A few observations from the passing parade:

***Early candidate for comeback story of 2014: Video-on-demand. A few speakers at UBS' annual global media conference in NY last week invited cable and satellite operators to make VOD a high priority, now that they have up to 30,000 titles available each month and the ability to insert topical advertising messages in those programs on a dynamic basis. "The big news, the really good news, is that the world's going to VOD," declared Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner's chief executive officer. He wants people to use on-demand with interfaces like Comcast's X1 (soon X2) home screen. "As good as any experience developed by Silicon Valley," he said. If made must-see TV, on-demand could trigger "the next wave of innovation in the media industry," Bewkes added. "If we don't take this opportunity, someone else will. This is a gigantic opportunity. It's important everyone (operators, programmers, content developers) does this."

***First pledge on that front: Time Warner Cable increasing its VOD catalogue to 75,000 titles available for customers per month a year from now. That's the pledge from incoming chief executive officer Rob Marcus. Maybe the days of VOD being low on the totem pole of cable system promotion, despite growing viewer acceptance, are coming to an end.

***The highlights of UBS' conference -- beyond the virtual distributor prediction heard round the world from Viacom president and chief executive officer Philippe Dauman -- were thoughtful Q&A sessions with Discovery Communications, AMC Networks, Aereo and Legendary Entertainment (the last with a good highlight reel). The lowlight: UBS' cable/telco analyst (name deliberately withheld on my part) not asking the top people of Verizon and AT&T (CEOs Lowell McAdam and Randall Stephenson, respectively) a question about FIOS TV and U-verse, their respective TV ventures. Lots of wireless questions (understandable); none -- repeat none -- about TV. These are ventures with millions of customers here, and you can't believe this UBS analyst wouldn't want to know, or let his audience know, where they are going next year. Also, try this out: Stephenson raised the subject of Internet-protocol TV deployment himself, giving this analyst a place to ask, and no go. No pass here.

Next time: Early Jacks on the variety of new/re-launched channels during the second half of 2013.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

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