Throughout the last two weeks, cable and satellite companies have been announcing their quarterly earnings and reporting massive losses of video subscribers. Now, a new analyst report puts the total number of lost subscribers at nearly 2 million.
According to a note by analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson Research, cited by multiple media outlets on Friday, cable and satellite providers lost a total of 1.8 million subscribers in the first quarter, or 7.6 percent. That is a record number of drops for a single quarter.
The drop, according to the note, was much worse for satellite providers, which saw a 14.3 percent loss, as opposed to just 4 percent for cable. AT&T — which owns DirecTV — and Dish Network had both posted significant subscriber losses.
AT&T, in its earnings report last week, reported a loss of over a million subscribers, across its DirecTV, U-verse TV, AT&T TV and DirecTV Now platforms. Dish, for their part, dropped over 400,000 subscribers in the quarter, between the Dish product itself and Sling TV.
What's driving the loss? It's a combination of customers being stuck at home, the lack of sports, and the coming recession, as many customers are left with less disposable income.
In addition, Moffett's note, as reported by Multichannel News, the providers are known as "vMVPDs" — virtual multichannel video programming distributors, such as Sling TV, YouTube TV, Fubo TV, Hulu+ Live TV and DirecTV Now — posted losses as well. The sector as a whole lost over 300,000 subscribers in the quarter, while one vMPVD, Sony's PlayStation Vue, folded altogether in January.
Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV did add subscribers in the quarter, but Moffett said that Hulu+ Live TV appears to have "hit a wall," with a smaller increase than recent quarters.
"At 63% of occupied households, traditional pay-TV penetration has reached a level not previously seen since roughly 1995,” Moffett wrote in the note, as cited by Variety. “There are now as many non-subscribing households (46M) as there were pay-TV subscribers in 1988.”
Moffett also noted that while several of the companies in question have made huge investments in streaming — Disney, Comcast, and AT&T — "we doubt the [direct to consumer] lifeboats will ever come close to matching the profitability of the business they are ostensibly designed to replace.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to 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.