Is Netflix Really Cannibalizing Pay-TV?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Netflix may not be taking all that many customers away from traditional US pay-TV providers.

In a comprehensive new study, TDG Research found that usage of conventional pay-TV services by US Netflix subscribers declined only marginally over the last three years.

The percentage of Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) customers using pay-TV services slipped from 87% in 2012 to 84% in 2015, a mere 3% decline that fell within the study's margin of error.

At the same time, Netflix streaming by pay-TV users surged by 33%, rising from 36% of pay-TV subscribers to 49%. So, even as the number of pay-TV subscribers taking Netflix rose dramatically over the three-year span, only a relative few actually cut the pay-TV cord.

"So much for the hypothesis that Netflix use leads to the cancellation of legacy pay-TV services," said Nick Bayer, a TDG analyst who authored the study.

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But cable, satellite TV and telco TV operators shouldn't exactly start dancing in the streets yet either. While Netflix may not be driving all that much cord-cutting right now, it is still having a serious impact on the pay-TV industry, according to TDG.

Bayer notes that Netflix is acting as "an incremental threat to premium TV services," prompting pay-TV subscribers to shave the cord if not cut it entirely. "Today's Netflix streamers are significantly less likely to use value-added pay-TV services like PVR, premium sports and pay-per-view then they were in 2012," he said. In other words, pay-TV providers are not making as much revenue on many of their video subscribers as they did just three years ago.

The study findings come at a time when both traditional service and content providers are starting to embrace the OTT platform as at least a complement to their conventional pay-TV offerings. In particular, major US TV programmers are plunging into the OTT space, with Showtime Networks Inc. joining the movement earlier this week and AMC Networks Inc. preparing to go next. (See Showtime Launches, AMC Tests OTT Services .)

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

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