Every indication, from the earnings reports of the nation's leading pay-TV companies, is that Internet subscriptions are rising, while video subscriptions are falling. Those trends are far from new, but they've been seriously exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with much of the population both home from work and customers not having any live sports to watch.
According to a report last week by Leichtman Research Group, Inc., the largest 15 pay-TV providers lost over 2 million subscribers, bringing the overall number to 83 million.
Every provider listed, with the exception of Hulu + Live TV, lost subscribers in the quarter, although YouTube TV, which did not release exact numbers, likely gained as well. DirecTV lost the most with 897,000, followed by Comcast with 409,000 about net subscriber losses, and then Sling TV (281,000), AT&T TV Now (138,000), and Dish TV (132,000.)
In a separate report earlier in the week, the same firm reported that the 16 largest companies in the cable and telecom space in the U.S. gained 1,165,000 net additional broadband Internet subscribers in the first quarter, to a total of 102.4 million.
Clearly, pay-TV is declining and broadband Internet is increasing. So are any of those companies considering getting out of the former business altogether and concentrating on the latter?
In short, there's no indication, at least in the short term, that any of the cable or telecom companies that offer pay-TV service are considering exiting that business anytime soon. Sure, business models are certain to evolve over time. But every indication is that Comcast, Verizon, and other giants of the field are going to continue offering pay-TV services for the foreseeable future.
The only possible exceptions, it would appear, are satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network. DirecTV, like most services in the space, is owned by a large, diversified corporation, and all indications are AT&T does not see DirecTV as a cornerstone of its future strategy. The company launched a satellite in late 2018 that it said at the time will be it's last, and AT&T has been focusing on its other video services, such as AT&T TV. The Wall Street Journal reported last September that AT&T was even considering "parting ways" with DirecTV.
As for Dish Network, its satellite service is also seriously declining, and its CEO earlier this year called a merger with DirecTV "inevitable."
The landscape of pay-TV, regardless of what happens with coronavirus, is likely to look very different in five or ten years from what it is today. But even though the likes of Comcast and Verizon are likely to keep bleeding video subscribers, there's little indication that an exit from that space is imminent for them.
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.