Q2 sees subscriber troubles for operators, cable networks

By Jim O'Neill on Aug 11 2016 at 11:30 AM
Q2 sees subscriber troubles for operators, cable networks

It’s been a tough quarter for pay-TV operators and cable networks.

Every major U.S. operator – with the exception of DirecTV -- lost subscribers in the quarter, led by AT&T’s U-verse TV which lost 391,000 subs, its worst loss since Q1 when 381,000 customers bailed.

Dish Network, meanwhile, said it lost 281,000 subscribers between its core service and Sling TV -- which actually likely gained 50,000-plus subs in the quarter – pushing Dish’s loss closer to 330,000. Charter reported it lost 152,000 subs, Verizon’s FiOS TV was down 41,000, Altice (Suddenlink and Cablevision) was down 25,000 and Comcast 4,000.

AT&T’s DirecTV added 342,000, “the only company in the Top 10 to report organic subscriber growth, although that was largely at the expense of AT&T U-verse,” said informitv analyst Sue Farrell.

The Multiscreen Index from informitv pegged losses at 663,000 subscribers from the Top 10 service providers, up from about 500,000 a year ago.

MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett, meanwhile, said the losses for the industry could be as high as 757,000 in the quarter.

It’s not just the operators, though, that are losing customers, cable networks are being hit, too.

“The gap between cord-cutting, or eliminating one’s pay-TV subscription altogether, and cord-shaving, where skinny bundles replace fat ones, is getting wider,” Moffett said. 

A recent Nielsen estimate put U.S. pay-TV household penetration 2.3% down from a year ago, but Pivotal Research Group said it believed cable networks were down more, about 2.7%.

“The gaps between the two figures are consistent with the notion that cord shaving is impacting owners of cable networks,” said Pivotal Research Group Analyst Brian Wieser in a report earlier this month.

ESPN lost more than 2.2 million subscribers in Q2, and are at risk of losing more as pay-TV operators create new skinny bundles of content that move more expensive channels like ESPN into optional supplemental bundles to reduce costs.

Dish last week launched a basic tier without ESPN, following Verizon’s lead. And, more are likely to follow.

Stay tuned.                                                             

Follow me on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn

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