It’s been another bad month for ESPN.
New data shows the Disney flagship sports channel losing 3.8 percent of its subscribers in May, as cable cord cutters continue to defect to streaming video services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
ESPN’s rate of attrition is nearly a third higher than the median drop of 2.9 percent for cable channel subscriber losses during the month, according to Nielsen’s latest estimates based on its viewing panel.
ESPN has been spending big on sports broadcasting rights, and lately fresh evidence has surfaced that subscriber losses are eroding its ability to underwrite that strategy. Earlier this month, Disney said operating income at its Media Networks division that includes ESPN dropped 3 percent in the quarter ended April 1.
Nielsen’s new data does not include new ESPN subscribers to over-the-top services from the likes of Sling, Hulu and YouTube among others, whose total subscriber base is around 1.3 million. In 2016, there were 94.7 million pay TV subscribers nationwide through cable, satellite and telecom distributors, according to SNL Kagan.
According to Nielsen, ESPN was in 86.9 million households as of May, down 3.3 percent from 89.8 percent a year earlier.
A source close to ESPN said the year-on-year numbers were down 2.7 percent including over-the-top services, which have helped ESPN add about 200,000 new subscribers during the past year.
An ESPN spokeswoman declined to comment.
Nielsen’s report not only shows the toll that cord cutting is taking on Cableland, but also shows that the industry is beginning to look like a world of haves and have nots, with smaller channels starting to lose out.
The statistical breakdown comes from Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research who notes that big media companies still get paid affiliate fees despite the changes, and that the impact is more likely to be felt on advertising revenue.
Wieser notes that May’s drop in pay TV subscribers came despite the fact that the…