• Cord-Cutting Remains Muted As Major Pay-TV Providers Lost 385K Subscribers in 2015

    Cord-cutting remains one of the industry most-talked about themes, but it still appears relatively muted. According to Leichtman Research Group’s calculations, the 13 biggest pay-TV operators, which account for about 95% of the industry, lost approximately 385K subscribers in 2015. While that’s up from a 150K loss in ’14 and 100K loss in ’13, it still represents a minuscule .4% subscriber contraction, hardly the free fall many observers have long been predicting.

    In fact, the bigger story in 2015 was actually the intra-industry shifts, which saw major cable-TV operators turning in vastly improved performance, at the expense of telcos and satellite operators, when backing out gains at Sling TV. This is a trend I wrote about in 2015 and Colin and I discussed on the podcast.

    Cable operators lost around 345K subscribers in ’15, the lowest annual loss since ’06 and down from a 1.2 million loss in ’14. Two of the three biggest cable TV operators - Time Warner Cable and Charter - actually gained subscribers in ’15, 43K and 11K respectively. Cable operators benefited from improvements in their video experiences, investments in faster broadband, bundling and weaker competition.

    Satellite operators added 86K subscribers vs. a gain of 20K in ’14, but after backing out Sling TV’s gains, actually lost around 450K subscribers. Though Dish hasn’t yet broken out Sling TV’s results, skinny bundles like Sling TV and DIRECTV Now are going to continue to play a significant role in propping up satellite results in 2016.

    Telcos experienced the biggest swing in ’15, losing 125K subscribers vs. a gain of over a million in ’14, marking their worst year since getting into the video business in ’06. AT&T accounted for the lion’s share of the swing, losing 303K subscribers vs. a gain of 660K in ’14. AT&T began ramping down U-verse in anticipation of its DIRECTV acquisition. Meanwhile Verizon declined from a 387K gain in ’14 to a 178K gain in ’15 as the company saturates its limited markets and focuses more on wireless.  

    There’s no question that cord-cutting will remain a top industry theme in 2016. There are more video choices than ever for viewers - free online services, SVOD, skinny bundles, etc., available across an array of connected and mobile devices, which are particularly appealing for non-sports fans.

    The 3 most popular SVOD services are now in more than 50% of U.S. households and Netflix alone has almost 45 million subscribers domestically. Despite all this growth, as LRG points out, the pay-TV industry has lost less than a million subscribers since its all-time high in the first quarter of 2012. While the cost of a monthly pay-TV subscription is a steep outlay for many people, it has remained far more resilient than many predicted.

    If or when cord-cutting will truly accelerate continues to be one of the industry’s biggest unknowns.

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