Cable Backlash: NPD Yanks Negative Report Amid HBO, Showtime, Starz Furor


Market research firm is looking over its data and pulling its report from the web

In the face of fierce backlash from HBO, Showtime and Starz, NPD Group has temporarily pulled a report from its website claiming that premium cable channels have declined in popularity.

A spokesman for the market research company said it is double-checking the numbers after the three channels claimed that the data is faulty and that their subscriber rolls have actually increased in recent years.

“The research is simply incorrect,” an HBO spokesman said in a statement to TheWrap. “Both HBO and Cinemax services have shown significant domestic subscriber growth the past two years.”

A Showtime spokeswoman said, “The NPD research is not accurate.  Showtime has increased subscribers over the past two years, and in fact, has added 1 million viewers each year for six of the past 7 years.”

Also read: Is Netflix Luring Away HBO and Showtime Customers?

The furor kicked off on Monday after NPD’s study argued the number of U.S. households subscribing to premium cable channels dropped six percent over the last two years, while the number of households with subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix grew by four percent. The company based its survey on roughly 7,500 customers and implied that Netflix’s growing popularity was coming at the expense of HBO and others.

However, Showtime, HBO and Starz claim SNL Kagan data reveals that growth, not diminution, has been the trend of late. From March 2012 through September 2013, Showtime’s subscriber penetration went from 21.1 percent to 22.8 percent, HBO’s jumped from 28.2 percent to 29.2 percent and Starz’s increased from 19.9 percent to 22 percent.

Also read: Netflix, A La Carte Cable Favored by Majority of Customers, Study Finds

The companies’ claims were echoed by BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield, who said in a note Tuesday that NPD’s claims were “100 percent false.”

“We believe premium growth has been quite healthy, with absolute premium subscribers now at an all-time high driven by improving quality of content,” Greenfield wrote.

He went on to say that Netflix and other video-on-demand subscribers tend to have a voracious appetite for content, “meaning you subscribe to HBO and Netflix, not HBO or Netflix.”

An NPD spokesman did not say when its review of the data would be completed.

  • creepy

    So the corporate Ministry of Truth now controls facts and independent studies?

  • FTLNewsFeed

    This is what happens when companies sit on their numbers and aren’t transparent. If HBO and Showtime had been open about their subscriber numbers we’d know that they are more believable than NPD. Personally, I’m more inclined to believe NPD. These companies have been around for decades and I can’t imagine that they’ve had a sudden uptick in subscriptions that they claim they’ve had. Also, Mr. Greenfield, almost nothing is “100 percent false” — there’s a kernel of truth in both views.

    • dav023

      I agree with your assessment, except for the last sentence. Sometimes things people say about others are 100% false. Probably not in this instance though.

    • Voice Of Saruman

      Nobody mentioned a “sudden uptick” except for you. Growth on HBO and Showtime has been steadily continuing to climb for years, that’s all. The subscriber base for both channels has grown year after year for sometime now, despite all the “pulling the plug” and “death of cable” hype. It’s a fact.

  • karenyoung

    The pay TV companies know how many subs they have or don’t have. No one else does. They are going to slice and dice and “position” those numbers to make themselves look as good as possible to the investment community. That’s what every company does. However, a savvy person reading their financials should be able to get a good picture of reality, even if it takes some “reading between the lines.”

    A random sample “study,” no matter how well designed it may be, is not a substitute for those real numbers. Is NPD just taking a slice of the general population and noting that there are fewer pay TV subscribers in it, based on self reporting? That does not mean that subscriptions are really down.

    It seems clear that cable TV subscriptions are going down. It also seems clear that this is a trickle rather than a flood. It’s also clear that cable providers are hedging their bets in various ways, to compensate for this revenue category continuing to drop. It would make sense that a similar process is going on at pay TV.

    The only way such a “study” would be useful, if you ask me, is if it provided some demographic data as well as usage data (heavy vs light TV viewers), and asked questions about the “why” of consumers’ decisions. You still couldn’t take it to the bank in terms of whether subs are really up or down, but it might provide some useful insight into who’s cancelling and why.