That is the question. And it is not an easy one to answer.
Why "cut the cord"?
- Economic reason: to save money (The "official poverty rate" is 15.1 % of Americans in 2010. Source: Census Bureau, September 2011). Monthly pay-TV bills average 73 $ (source: LRG, 2011) and 91.44 $ for cable + broadband (without add-ons or premium channels, of course. Source: SNL Kagan, Feb. 2012).
- To regain some degrees of economic liberty: with free terrestrial TV (broadcast), you receive all the commercial networks available in your area (DMA) and their local stations; you get PBS as well as a few other stations (indies, etc.). Plus you can rent DVDs from kiosks (Redbox, etc.). No cord anymore (but how about the Web connection?)
- Also, cord-cutting and unbundling have a transaction cost (paperwork, changing email address, phone number, etc.) which act as as barrier to exit.
How many TV households (TVHH) unsubscribe (churn rate), but also how many new subscribers? Among cord-cutters, how many moved for personal or professional reasons? How many moved into a nursing home? How many passed away?
According to the Convergence Consulting Group (April 2012), 1.05 million TVHH cut their subscription last year: in other words, 1% of subscribing TVHH. New subscribers were 0.11 million. All in all, since 2008, cable and satellite lost 2.65 million subscribers. Some of them now subscribe to telcos: U-verse (AT&T) or FIOS (Verizon). Some might subscribe to Netflix or Hulu+, etc. Anyway, these households did not cut the cord; they just switched cords (cf. Satellite, cable and connected TV). Nielsen call them "cord swappers".
Among the households that did unsubscribe, how many were "poor" customers who subscribed only to the cheapest services? MSO and satellite companies prefer usually to focus on "good" customers and they might want to lose "poor" customers in order to increase their margin with good ones - those who buy many services (DVR, multiroom equipment, triple play, etc.). Subscription management is more complex than gaining or losing subscribers.
Among households without TV sets (3 to 4% of American households), how many subscribe to broadband and only watch on tablet, computers? According to Nielsen, their number is growing. Remains to be seen.
To make a long story short: there does not seem to be such a thing as cord-cutting. There is some cord swapping. Some people watch TV only on the Net.