Nielsen’s April ’18 Cable UEs Point To ‘Ongoing Decline’

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Nielsen on Monday released its April 2018 cable network Universe Estimates, and there’s one thing in particular that sticks out for Pivotal Research Group Senior Research Analyst/Advertising Brian Wieser.


The “bottom line” on the new UEs: there’s an ongoing decline in traditional pay TV network penetration rates, led by lower traditional MVPD subscription levels.

Excluding distribution through vMVPDs, the median cable network entity tracked by Nielsen lost 2.6% of its subscribers despite an estimated 1.0% growth rate for total TV households for the month.

Current data indicates a cable universe with vMVPDs is approximately 2.9% larger than one which only counts MVPDs, although growth figures for a comprehensive universe of subscribers are impossible to assess because of an absence of comparable data in the year ago period, Wieser notes.

The cable universe with vMVPDs indicates 2.7 million incremental subscribers in the current data, versus 2.6 million in March 2018.

“If the panel’s vMVPD subscribers were more extensively included and if full-year trends were included, median growth rates would probably be improved, but would only be slightly less negative than figures indicated here,” Wieser says.

Excluding virtual MVPDs (mostly YouTube TV, Sling TV, Playstation Vue and DirecTV Now) the data show “another decline” of 2.5% in the number of pay TV homes.

Including vMVPDs would likely reduce this decline to closer to 2%, Wieser calculates.

“The gap between the 1.0% growth rate of TV households and the 2.5% decline in households with pay TV – potentially a proxy for cord-cutting, if taken at face value – equates to 3.5% in this data, consistent with trends observed through most of the past year,” he adds.

Data provided on vMVPD penetration rates provided what Wieser calls “notable, if unsurprising results.”

What were the biggest losers in the new UEs?

The networks losing the most subscribers — solely looking at traditional MVPDs and not including the incremental penetration that vMVPDs add — were Discovery’s Discovery Family Channel (-6.8%), Destination America (-9.8%), Science (-7.4%) DIY (-6.4%) and American Heroes (-6.1%), Time Warner’s Boomerang (-7.9%), as well as Viacom’s MTV Classic (-6.2%) and Logo (-6.7%).

Each of these networks are on expanded cable tiers, requiring an additional subscription plan.

The closely watched Disney networks ESPN and ESPN2 were down by 2.7% each during the month, once again very close to the overall industry average, Wieser says.

Despite the gloomy story generally conveyed by the data, Wieser thinks “an underappreciated positive story lies in the data not explicitly included in Nielsen’s Universe Estimates.”

He says, “Broadcast networks’ growth in penetration effectively matches the rise in TV households, meaning that if we were to look at ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC we would see gains of around 1% year over year. This growth in penetration provides support to viewing levels at those networks, at least to the extent that viewing arrives at there by default when broadcast-only homes choose to watch linear TV.”