“It’s piracy,” Connolly said. “It’s people consuming something they haven’t paid for. The more the practice is viewed with a shrug, the more it creates a dynamic where people believe it’s acceptable. And it’s not.”

Cable and satellite carriers in North America have lost 3 million customers this year alone. But the prevalence of password sharing suggests many of those customers, and possibly many more, are watching popular shows like “The Walking Dead” for free, robbing pay-TV providers and programmers of paying subscribers and advertising dollars.

Most pay-TV companies only require users to re-enter their passwords for each device once a year. During contract negotiations this fall, Charter urged Viacom Inc., home of Comedy Central and MTV, to help limit illicit password swapping. The cable company wants programmers to restrict the number of concurrent streams on their apps and force legitimate subscribers to log in more often, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations