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Cord-Cutting Could Clip Other Video Players

Alan Breznick
7/16/2019

Traditional pay-TV providers are not the only ones with cause for worry about consumers cutting the video cord and walking away for good. So do such big pay-TV programmers as HBO and major streaming video players like Netflix.

These are some of the key takeaways from two new studies by InYourArea Research, which tracks Internet usage and TV and streaming video viewership by younger consumers. The twin reports, which came out last week and earlier today, indicate the cord-cutting craze could easily spread like a rampant disease to HBO, Netflix and other programming powerhouses as they wrap up or lose some of their most popular shows.

In HBO's case, the dramatic conclusion of the long-running Game of Thrones series in May could prompt a mass exodus by millennial fans of the show. In the first InMyArea study, a full one-third of millennial viewers who pay for HBO said they have already canceled or plan to cancel their subscriptions now GoT has faded to black. With millennials making up a large portion of the show's 10 million-plus weekly viewers, that could mean the loss of up to several million subscribers.

Notably, less than two-thirds (62%) of millennial GoT viewers have their own HBO subscriptions, the InMyArea study found. At least 25% of them watch on someone else's dime, using a friend's or family member's subscription.

But that still means the potential loss of millions of subscribers, which would leave HBO executives scrambling to make up for the revenue shortfall. Even Westworld, the premium network's second most popular show, draws only a third as many viewers as GoT.

"Game of Thrones is a piece of content like no other," said John Busby, managing director of InMyArea Research. "GoT is this zeitgeisty thing … HBO has to worry."

In the case of Netflix, it faces a similar threat from the pending departure of The Office in 2021, according to the second study conducted by InMyArea. The research firm found 10% of US subscribers say they will drop Netflix when NBCUniversal yanks The Office off the leading streaming service and places the show on its own forthcoming OTT service, which is slated to debut next year.

That translates to a potential loss of 6 million paying customers for Netflix, most of them millennials and GenZ members. With the service's most popular subscription plan costing $12.99 a month, InMyArea estimates Netflix could lose as much as $935 million in annual revenue from such a subscriber exodus.

Similarly, the loss of Friends to WarnerMedia's new streaming video service, HBO Max, next year will not go down well at Netflix. In its second study, InMyArea found that the departure of that long-running hit series, the second most popular show on Netflix, will prompt up to 8% of the service's US viewers to cancel their subscriptions. That translates to a loss of as many as 4.8 million subscribers, or about $750 million in annual revenue.

But Netflix's loss would not necessarily be NBCUniversal's or HBO Max's gain. Only 23% of those who would cancel Netflix when it loses Friends say they would pay for another streaming service that had it. And a mere 8% of those who would drop Netflix when it loses The Office say they would sign up for the new NBCUniversal service.

"I think the brand moves are going to be really interesting," said Busby, questioning the consumer power of the WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal brands. "Out of the gates, they have more work to do."

This should all make for interesting fodder as second-quarter earnings reports start coming out, beginning with Netflix's closely watched report late tomorrow.

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— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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