According to SNL Kagan, cable lost some 741,000 subscribers in the third quarter -- this after a 216,000 drop in the second quarter. These are the first net losses since Kagan started tracking the business in 1980.
Even when including satellite and telco video offerings, the U.S. multichannel segment fell by 119,000 customers in the third quarter of 2010, compared to a 346,000 gain in third-quarter 2009.
That's a big reversal. It's the single largest quarterly dip for cable since SNL Kagan began compiling data for segment in 1980. Cable MSO's share of combined video subscribers is now at 60.3%, versus 62.9% in third-quarter 2009.
Savvy cable operators have been bracing for this day -- a sizable spike in "cord-cutting" -- even if the actual drop accounted for just around 1% of total U.S. TV homes.
What this means, for those who haven't been vacationing on one of Jupiter's moons, is that some consumers are going elsewhere. Which ones? Younger consumers, those with limited financial means, and others trend-setters.
You can now see more clearly what 'TV Everywhere' is all about -- the effort where cable operators want to make sure its former customers (or potential consumers) aren't just looking for a free ride of TV programming on the Internet.
Cable operators' key is to lure their sometimes-bitter media competitors, the TV networks -- broadcast, cable, local multi-cast networks, whatever -- to a relationship by giving them value for their content, retransmission fees or whatever you would like to call it, in the years to come.
While it might kill cable operators to give networks extra cash, it would be worse having nothing to give to consumers when other up-and-coming digital video providers come along.
See what Comcast is doing to build out its Xfinity Web area -- which may seem, decades from now, like a replacement when its traditional cable system businesses have less value.
Mind you, it's not just a drop in analog basic service from cable operators; some of these numbers now include newer digital cable TV subscribers.
And the future gets more complicated for cable. For those who can pay the ever bigger entertainment fees, consumers want their content to be more mobile -- not just getting TV shows on their iPhones and BlackBerrys, but anywhere they want. Can cable operators handle that?
Either way, cable better figure out a way to own or license more content -- or to simply follow in Comcast's footsteps: buy a big broadcast network and some mature and growing cable networks.