What: Comcast and all the other major cable companies remain vulnerable to people deciding they don't need traditional pay television, but the feared widespread exodus has not occurred. In addition, any losses in cable customers have been more than offset by increases in broadband customers, likely driven by the need for quality Internet service in order to use streaming services.
In its most recent quarter, Comcast only lost 48,000 cable subscribers while it gained 320,000 Internet customers. Time Warner Cable, (UNKNOWN:TWC.DL), which is in the process of being purchased by Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR), did even better losing only 7,000 video customers while adding 232,000 Internet customers in the quarter. Charter beat even that by adding 131,000 new Internet customers and 12,000 new video subscribers.
So what: If people don't leave cable in massive numbers in favor of streaming services and more users continue to add Internet service, then Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, and the other major players have much more stable businesses. It seems pretty clear that cord cutting may be inevitable, at least to a degree, but it's not going to be a quick falloff in the way that streaming quickly wiped out many conventional music stores.
Essentially, these numbers suggest that Comcast and its rivals have time to make changes. That's very good news for a company that owns a number of media properties -- it should eventually be able to leverage on digital and streaming platforms.
Now what: Slower-than-expected cord cutting does not mean that people will stick with cable forever. Comcast has to continue its careful balancing act of offering slimmed down "skinny" bundles in order to give consumers a choice beyond simply dropping pay TV. That's a tough balance to maintain since it could cannibalize its own customers if it makes those smaller bundles attractive enough or not hold on to people looking to leave if it does not.
Still, for Comcast and the rest of the cable industry, October proved that it's OK to exhale a little bit. Cord cutting may be coming, but it's not here yet and it may be slow to get here.
Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. He thought the Twinkies package which looked like Comcast's Minions characters was pretty clever. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.