- Gleb Garanich/Reuters
The trend of cord-cutting among millennials has drawn intense focus from media companies over the last few years as cable providers scramble to figure out ways to hang on to and bring on new subscribers.
Three analysts, however, don’t think cord-cutting is the biggest issue facing the providers.
Instead, they say outright “theft” of over-the-top content by millennials is the real danger to the industry.
“The millennials are a generation that grew up (and will likely grow old) ‘sharing’ (read stealing) passwords for access to content if it continues to be ignored,” wrote Jefferies analysts Mike McCormack, Scott Goldman, and Tudor Mustata in a note to clients Tuesday. “We believe it is the most significant cause of the declining pay TV subscriber base.”
Recent studies estimate 10% of Netflix and Hulu viewers use accounts paid for by someone outside their own household. The analysts say people are stealing cable-based services in the same way.
“Once upon a time, the pay TV industry faced a very serious problem and subscriber numbers suffered accordingly. The problem at that time was called ‘theft of service’,” said the analysts. “It took the form of illegal cable drops, third party set-tops, and reprogrammed satellite cards, and it took a significant effort to combat. Magically subscriber metrics recovered when the industry addressed the problem.”
The analysts suggest media companies should make a similar effort to crack down on password sharing instead, which could drive subscribers back up.
The solution they offer is to limit the number of devices an account can be logged onto through authentication. But they have found those in the industry are reluctant to do so.
For one, HBO executives have repeatedly said they aren’t concerned about the issue, and the analysts say other cable providers are fine with it as long as they are using broadband.
“A few believe the more apps usage, the more broadband consumption (wireless and wireline),” said the Jefferies’ analysts. “The inherent risk is clearly the de facto turning a blind eye to password sharing (theft, in our view), and it also makes an assumption that the users are subscribers to the video provider’s broadband products (a significant leap of faith, in our view).”
Additionally, they say industry insiders don’t want to alienate the younger demographic that uses the streaming services more frequently.
HBO Go and HBO Now do limit the number of concurrent streams already, but not the number of logged-in devices. Showtime Anytime has a hard five-device cap, but most services simply limit concurrent streaming, per TechHive.
The analysts believe a la carte programming, which allows people to choose exactly which channels they receive, could be another long-term solution, but in the meantime cable companies should go after freeloaders.
“Although a la carte would be attractive for many demographics, it is unlikely in the offing soon, but in the meantime, the industry needs to stop being taken advantage of by a growing demographic of non-paying, app-authenticated video consumers.”