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NPD report hits a sore nerve, HBO and Showtime push back

In response to a recent study published by The NPD Group, which showed streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus on the rise and premium cable channels such as Starz, Showtime and HBO on the decline, representatives from several premium networks had this to say to the market research firm: You’re wrong. In consideration of the push-back, NPD has taken down its report and pulled it from the PR Newswire, pending the completion of internal review of the report. 

In a piece published by Digital Trends on Monday, we pointed to conflicting numbers between the NPD data, and those reported by representatives of the top dogs in premium cable subscriptions themselves. The NPD report showed a 6 percent decline in premium channel subscriptions for U.S. households over an 18 month period. But the networks themselves begged to differ.

Showtime representatives claimed that the NPD study “… does not accurately reflect actual subscriber counts.” HBO spokespersons put it more succinctly, saying the study is “simply inaccurate.” To back up their claims, the networks pointed to their own tallies. Showtime reported a rise in subscriptions over the past year by 1 million households. HBO reps pointed to a rise of 1.2 million viewers in 2012, and according to The LA Times, the company expects to see a similar result when the numbers are all in for 2013.

Variety also reported that several of the premium channels in question have cited numbers from a recent SNL Kagan study taken over the same period, in which nearly all of the major premium channels showed growth. According to the report, Starz subscriptions rose from 19.9 percent to 22 percent, Showtime grew from 21.1 percent to 22.8 percent, HBO jumped one percentage point to 29.2 percent, and Cinemax rose from 11.2 percent to 13.6. While the NPD study was a consumer poll of approximately 7,500 consumers, SNL Kagan uses industry sources for its findings.

We reached out to NPD for comment, and representatives from the company said that amidst the push back from HBO, Showtime, and others, the company has taken down the link to perform due diligence. The company is re-checking its numbers, and promised to get back to us as soon as they have finished a full review. When they do, this story will be updated. 

As for the networks themselves, while it’s understandable that they would be critical about any errors in the study, it also seems that NPD has hit a sore spot. We’ll have to wait and see how this all comes out, and there certainly seems to be evidence that, if anything, premium networks are slightly on the rise. 

But it also seems that we’ve gotten a more exposed glimpse behind the mask. While HBO often claims “It’s not TV,” it is, of course. And the moment may soon be approaching in which the content paradigm will turn in favor of services which can claim in earnest, “We’re better than TV.”