The pandemic year of 2020 exacerbated long-term trends when it came to customers getting rid of traditional pay-TV service. And while the declines slowed as the year went on, they have nevertheless remained and according to a new survey, pay-TV subscriptions dropped for the 20th consecutive quarter.
According to Variety, which cited data from its Variety Intelligence Platform, there were 65.3 million pay-TV subscribers as of the end of the first quarter of 2021, according to public figures released by the companies. That represents a 7.2 percent decline from the previous year, a total of more than 5 million subscribers lost.
The 20-quarter decline, per Variety, began in the first quarter of 2016.
The other big headline from the survey was that the vMVPD sector, which includes Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV, Fubo TV, and other competitors, has also seen some declines, thanks largely to price increases over the course of the last year.
“What was different in Q1 was that VMVPD numbers were also down when comparing with the previous quarter, with VIP+ estimates pegging the total number of subscribers at 11.6 million, a decline of -0.8%,” the Variety report said. “This was led by Disney’s Hulu with Live TV service declining for the second straight quarter (by -5%, to 3.8 million).”
According to the supplied chart, Hulu + Live TV actually added about 500,000 subscribers between the first quarters of 2020 and 2021, while YouTube TV gained over a million (according to estimates) and Sling TV gained over 100,000. But some of them, including Hulu + Live TV, lost some of those gains as the year went on, thanks largely to those price increases.
The sector, as a whole, gained 2.2 million subscribers year over year. But Variety said that the price increases have taken away much of the value proposition offered by the services.
“Perhaps expensive VMVPDs do offer a true alternative for those willing to not pay for Wi-Fi and only use their cellular device, but this is a small slice of the market,” the survey said. “VMVPDs began as a true alternative to the bloated cable model, offering a much smaller bundle of channels for a radically lower price. Only Sling TV and Philo have stayed true to this ethos.”
Variety also said that some of the vMVPD losses came about as a result of “a bump caused by NFL fans coming in when the season starts and leaving after the Super Bowl.” Hulu + Live TV, in an appeal to football fans, recently announced that they will be adding both NFL Network and the NFL RedZone channel prior to the start of the 2021 NFL season.
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.