Everyone knows that there was a great deal of cord-cutting in 2020, as the pandemic and the accompanying economic disruption encouraged more and more Americans to drop their traditional pay TV service.
But one new measurement says that there were actually fewer cord-cutters in 2020 than there were the year before. That figure includes the five largest pay TV companies.
According to an analysis by Protocol, the five largest pay-TV providers—defined as Comcast, AT&T, Dish, Charter and Verizon—lost a combined 5.5 million subscribers in 2020, after those companies lost 5.8 million in 2019.
Why did the companies lose fewer in the year of the pandemic? According to Protocol, the massive losses during the early part of the year tapered off in the fall, while efforts by some of the companies stemmed the bleeding a bit.
“Subscriber losses slowed a bit toward the end of the year, but pandemic-related cutbacks still hit the industry hard—and may have led to hundreds of thousands additional cancellations if not for industry-wide billing relief efforts,” the report said.
The numbers shared in Protocol’s report were all shared by the companies in public earnings reports.
Of the five companies, AT&T lost the most subscribers in 2020, dropping about 3 million, although the DirecTV owner had lost about 4 million in 2019. Comcast, however, lost more customers in 2020, losing 1 million compared to about 671,000 in 2019. Dish also lost more this year than last, dropping 696,000 customers in 2020, compared with 336,000 in 2019.
Charter was alone in gaining subscribers year over year.
In the fourth quarter specifically, AT&T lost the most subscribers, dropping 644,000, while Comcast lost 227,000, Dish shed 133,000, and Charter and Verizon each lost numbers in the five digits. However, AT&T had lost over a million subscribers in the same period in 2019, while Dish and Charter both dropped fewer than they had in the fourth quarter of the year before.
The report also indicated that the vMVPD sector had a mixed performance, with some services gaining subscribers but others losing them, as prices have risen over time.
The Protocol report only listed the top five companies; Leitchtman Research Group puts out a quarterly report listing the amount of cord-cutting by customers of the top eight cable companies, two satellite services, three phone companies and four vMVPDs, which add up to 95 percent of the market.
LRG has not yet released its fourth-quarter report for 2020. But it listed overall losses of over 2 million subscribers in the first quarter, 1.57 million in the second, and 120,000 in the third.
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. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.