What can be regarded as a damning indictment on the US cable TV industry has been revealed by research from mobile advertising technology company Marchex.

The survey makes the top-line finding that the way in which Americans pay for TV programmes is undergoing a massive shift, and provides empirical support for the proposition that cord-shaving, if not indeed full-blown cord-cutting, is carrying on apace.

The white paper, Cutting the Cord: How Cable Companies Can Turn an Impending Threat into a Market Opportunity, processed anonymous data from 1.1 million consumer phone calls placed to leading cable providers in 2014 across the US, using Marchex’s Call Analytics platform.

Alarmingly for the cable industry, it found that nearly 26% of new customers asked for Internet service only, as opposed to 22% who asked for only cable. This says Marchex suggests that more consumers are interested in an ŕ la carte pay-TV model, in which the Internet provides the gateway to content and channels without costly bundling.

In addition nearly two-fifths of consumers asked providers about paying for specific channels, which strongly suggests that consumers want more freedom and flexibility to cherry pick content. Of those consumers, nearly half, 47%, wanted premium programming, such as Showtime, Starz or HBO. The top premium channel requested was HBO.

“Cable companies are coming face-to-face with the threat of disruption. Our data shows that providers need to start addressing pressing consumer demands; otherwise, they risk losing real market share when people decide to cut the cord for good,” commented Chen Zhao, director of analytics for the Marchex Institute, the data and insights team at Marchex.

Reassuringly the research did provide some positive calls to action. Sports programming was seen as the key way in which to prevent customers cutting the cord and taking up subscription TV. Of the sports providers, ESPN led the way with five times as many consumers in the study asked for the channel compared with those asking for Fox Sports, 20% versus 4% respectively.

In addition, the Marchex data analysts noted that consumers are incentivised to sign up for cable when a provider offers discounts or tacks on additional features. On the flip side, consumers failed to sign up when providers insisted on locking down three-year contracts.

The Cutting the Cord: How Cable Companies Can Turn an Impending Threat into a Market Opportunity white paper is available from http://www.marchex.com/institute/cable_cord_cutting