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ESPN: Cord-cutting among sports fans minimal

Mon, 12/06/2010 - 7:55am
Mike Robuck

The cord-cutting debate continues, with the latest salvo from ESPN claiming that the number of cord-cutters in homes is very small among sports fans.

According to ESPN's analysis of Nielsen's national people meter sampling, only 0.11 percent of the TV population with paid TV services and high-speed Internet connections chose to drop their cable, telco or satellite services.

The study also found that just 0.28 percent of homes in the Nielsen sample dropped multichannel service but kept their broadband Internet connections. This migration was offset by a group of broadcast-only households that became subscribers to multichannel TV and broadband over the same period.  These "un-cutters" represented 0.17 percent of homes in the Nielsen sample, which ESPN said meant the net loss between the groups was just 0.11 percent of all households.

Additionally, ESPN found that people who were heavy or medium sports viewers didn't fall into the category of cord-cutters at all. These sports viewers account for 83 percent of sports viewing and 90 percent of viewing to ESPN. 

The study, which ESPN said was reviewed and verified by Nielsen, also showed that the number of multichannel homes adding a broadband connection was nearly five times as large as the "cord-cutter" group. 

"This project adds critical intelligence to our understanding of the multichannel marketplace," said Glenn Enoch, vice president of integrated media research for ESPN. "We knew from other sources that cord-cutting was a very minor behavior, but we now have the ability to quantify this group and monitor it in the future."

While the popular perception seems to be that cord-cutters are hip, high-tech viewers who are jettisoning their video service providers in favor of satisfying their viewing needs via online sites, the study found that most cord-cutters were mainly middle-aged, middle-income households composed of viewers that were light or non-streamers. The study said in this instance that cord-cutting had more to do with saving money during the current economic climate.

Previous research by ESPN that also used Nielsen data, as well as other research providers, determined that while online video consumption has increased over the past two years, traditional TV viewing has continued to increase, as well. A recent study by CTAM that was conducted by The Nielsen Co. found that consumers of over-the-top Internet videos were watching the same or more linear TV programming on their broadband-enabled TVs.

Thanks to a new retransmission agreement earlier this year, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks are both offering streamed content from ESPN to their customers, but they need to be paid subscribers of the cable TV tiers in order to receive the streamed content.

In Time Warner Cable's earnings report last month, executives said they saw no evidence of widespread cord-cutting, despite the loss of 155,000 video subscribers in the third quarter.

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