Bad News: Charter, After Losing Cable Subscribers, Eyes Price Increase

Bad News: Charter, After Losing Cable Subscribers, Eyes Price Increase

The company offered free service in the early part of the pandemic. Later on, many of those customers turned into paid subscribers.

Over the course of 2020, most of the nation’s top pay-TV providers lost subscribers, as long-gestating cord-cutting trends accelerated. However, one cable provider, at least for part of the year, managed to buck the trend. 

Charter Communications, which owns Spectrum cable, actually added over one hundred thousand subscribers in the second quarter of 2020, at a time when most of its rivals were losing subscribers by the tens or hundreds of thousands. Even Charter had lost 150,000 in the same quarter the year before. 

How did they do it? A large part of the increase, the company said at the time, came as a result of the company offering free service in the early part of the pandemic, and then many of those customers converting to paid subscribers.

“All those gross additions that came through, 90% of them are still with us, and the vast majority of them are paying and 50% of them altogether had actually taken additional products from us and were paying along the way,” Christopher Winfrey, Charter’s chief financial officer, said last August. 

The gains were short-lived, however. Charter went on to lose 66,000 residential video subscribers in the fourth quarter of last year, and another 138,000 in the first quarter of 2021, leaving the company with just over 16 million subscribers. This makes them the second-largest cable provider, behind Comcast with 19.3 million, with both of them way ahead of the nearest competitors. 

And now, Charter is reportedly raising prices on several different services. 

According to the Palm Springs Desert Sun, Charter has been informing customers that it will raise prices, effective June 2. Charter will increase the “broadcast TV fee, to the TV Select, Silver and Gold packages and to equipment fees for set-top boxes,” the report said. 

Stop the Cap also published the notice itself. 

“As of 6/2/2021 there will be changes to Spectrum services, equipment, fees, and surcharges where applicable,” the note to consumers said. “Broadcast Surcharge for all TV plans will increase from $16.45/mo to $17.99/mo, with the exception of TV Stream and TV Choice, which will increase from $8.95/mo to $12.95/mo.” 

“Latino View will increase from $8.99/mo to $9.99/mo. Equipment fees for HD Boxes will increase from $7.99/mo to $8.99/mo.”

As with most TV providers, including Internet-based vMVPDs, Charter says the rising cost of programming is the reason for the price increase. 

“TV programmers annually raise fees to carry their content, driving higher costs across the entire industry,” a Spectrum spokesperson told the newspaper. “As a direct result of the growing cost of programming from the TV networks we carry, we are passing through these increased fees to viewers.”

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for the National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.