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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Cable TV is dying a slow death, and after years of mostly denying that reality, America's major media companies are beginning to hedge their bets and prepare for what comes next.

By the numbers: 25 million homes have cut the cord since 2012, and another 25 million are expected to do so by 2025.

Looking ahead: If projections hold and the number of households with traditional pay-TV bundles stabilizes at ~50 million, U.S. media companies would lose ~$25 billion in subscription revenue, plus any advertising losses.

The big picture: Partly due to the loss of live sports, the COVID-19 pandemic will drive cable and satellite TV providers to lose the most subscribers ever, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Data: eMarketer; Chart: Axios Visuals

The state of play: This has created a "tectonic shift" in the industry, with Disney, NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS all announcing major reorganizations in the last four months with an eye toward streaming.

  • Cable TV customers pay ESPN more than $9 per month, so the company has long been hesitant to cannibalize that deal by pivoting to streaming. But as cable subscriber numbers plummet, they clearly see the writing on the wall.
  • In the last two weeks, ESPN laid off 300 people — many of them in TV production — and moved most of its premium written content behind the ESPN+ paywall in an attempt to drive subscriptions.

A bold prediction: Every league will eventually go direct-to-consumer, sacrificing big paychecks from networks but gaining a direct relationship with their fans — and data about their customers.

  • In that scenario, the ESPNs of the world might start acquiring stakes in sports leagues, rather than paying for the rights to broadcast them.
  • For example, ESPN is paying billions of dollars to stream UFC fights on ESPN+ through 2025. What if they had just bought the UFC instead?

Between the lines: Not only is cable dying, but what it represents — linear broadcasts, studio shows, content designed to appeal to the masses — is also becoming a thing of the past.

  • With so many on-demand options, and a customized feed of information on social media, why would a teenager tune into ESPN or FS1 outside of live games?
  • And here's a really scary thought for legacy media: What happens if that teenager can't even be swayed to tune into the live games?

Because that's what's happening...

Go deeper

The week the Trump show ended

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Donald Trump was eclipsed in media attention last week by President Biden for the first time since Trump took office, according to viewership data on the internet, on social media and on cable news.

Why it matters: After Trump crowded out nearly every other news figure and topic for five years, momentum of the new administration took hold last week and the former president retreated, partly by choice and partly by being forced off the big platforms.

Republican-led Pennsylvania court deems mail-in voting law unconstitutional

Workers count ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Republican-led Pennsylvania court on Friday ruled that the state's mail-in voting law is unconstitutional.

Driving the news: Three Republican judges sided with Republican challengers and ruled that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the state's constitution. Two Democrats on the panel dissented.

47 mins ago - World

China's ambassador warns Taiwan could spark "military conflict" with U.S.

Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

China's ambassador to the U.S. warned in a rare interview with NPR that if Taiwanese authorities "keep going down the road for independence," it would "most likely" lead to a "military conflict" between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Chinese officials rarely speak in such blunt terms, but veteran diplomat Qin Gang was unequivocal: "The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States."

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