New estimates for the upcoming month show that cord shaving or consumers who continue to subscribe to cable, but downsize their programming bundles will continue to be an issue for providers and their networks. According to Broadcasting & Cable magazine, the new data from Nielsen shows that there will be reduced numbers subscribing to networks in April:

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.

So what does this mean? It means that cord cutting may not be the problem as once thought, but cord shaving is. Prominent cable content providers such as Disney will be down 3.6% in households for April matching the same number for this month. Yes, that includes ESPN and its family of networks. Viacom which includes MTV and Spike will see a 3.1% drop in April. NBCUniveral which has NBCSN, USA and others has a drop in the 2% range while 21st Century Fox which operates FS1 has a smaller 0.9% decrease.

Disney CEO Robert Iger has said while ESPN has seen a fall in subscribers, he’s seen signs of recent increases. But the numbers of Nielsen show otherwise:

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%.

So as cord shaving continues, it now has industry observers wondering if ESPN will launch a standalone over the top subscription channels as CBS, HBO and Showtime have. And if the lower trends continue, what will this mean for ESPN’s bottom line which has been taking a hit recently. If Disney has to deal with lower numbers of subscribers meaning decreased payments from the cable operators, it will affect ESPN which already had to deal with layoffs.

While skinny bundles may offset some network losses, will they be enough to stem the tide of cord shavers? It’s a question that consumers will tell with their wallets and their TV’s.

[Broadcasting & Cable]

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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