U.S. cable operators lost about 2.9 million video subscribers in 2011, shrinking the overall pay-TV market by 1.5% even as telcos packed on 1.1 million and satellite TV providers were roughly flat at 280,000 net adds, according to Nielsen data.
Meanwhile, households with broadband and only free, over-the-air broadcast TV increased by 631,000 over the course of last year, climbing 14% to 5.1 million. Broadcast-only homes dropped 1%, to about 11 million households versus 11.15 million a year earlier, according to Nielsen's Cross-Platform Report for the fourth quarter of 2011.
Whether or not the broadband-plus-free-TV increase reflects a gathering "cord-cutting" trend, Nielsen found that 98% of video viewing remained on traditional TV in Q4.
While traditional TV viewing declined 0.5% in the fourth quarter of 2011 -- or by roughly 46 minutes per month -- "the fact remains that Americans are not turning off," Nielsen said in a blog post Thursday. "They are shifting to new technologies and devices that make it easier for them to watch the video they want, whenever and wherever they want."
Monthly time spent watching traditional TV was 153 hours and 19 minutes in Q4, compared with 4 hours and 34 minutes watching Internet video (up 4.2% year over year), Nielsen reported. Time spent watching time-shifted TV (including VOD) across all TV homes increased 12.3%, to 11 hours and 44 minutes per month; among households with a DVR, time-shifted viewing was 26 hours and 10 minutes monthly, up 1.2%.
Other findings from Nielsen's Cross-Platform Report: The number of homes with an HDTV grew by more than 8 million, to 80.2 million, in 2011. In addition, game consoles are now in 45% of TV homes, making them "strategically positioned as a secondary gateway to TV content," the research firm said.
Overall, Nielsen estimates there were 114.7 million TV homes in 2011 -- which is expected to decline slightly to 114.1 million in 2013.
Cable's share of pay-TV subscribers dropped to 58.4% in the fourth quarter of 2011 (versus 60.4% a year prior), with 60.47 million video customers. Satellite TV had 34.55 million customers and telco TV operators had 8.45 million in Q4 2011, Nielsen said.
The Nielsen subscriber figures are an aggregate based on estimates for the 15th of each month in the quarter.