Cord-cutting is hardly front-page news these days, but it’s notable when an exodus of pay-TV customers surprises even the top analysts in the cable industry. For major pay-TV providers like Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc. and especially Dish Network Corp., cord-cutting isn’t just rampant. It’s worse than anyone had thought.
That’s according to a new research report from MoffettNathanson, which showed that most providers continued to suffer net losses of pay-TV customers in the first quarter of 2015. Compared to the same period last year, the cable industry posted a combined net loss of 86,000 pay-TV subscribers, according to the report. The satellite TV industry lost another 74,000.
Alone, those numbers wouldn’t be much to write home about, except that the first quarter has traditionally been a healthy season for the pay-TV industry, according to analyst Craig Moffett. Not so this year.
“The industry has now contracted over the past 12 months at a 0.5% rate,” Moffett wrote in the report. “That may not sound dramatic, perhaps, but it’s the fastest rate of decline on record and represents the largest sequential acceleration we have seen to date.”
Leading the pack in the downward trend was Cablevision Systems Corporation, which lost 28,000 pay-TV subscribers in the quarter. Comcast lost 8,000 and Charter lost another 5,000. Time Warner Cable gained 33,000 in the quarter, but it’s cold comfort for a company that has been hemorrhaging pay-TV customers for years, having lost more than 1.1 million of them since January 2013.
Lost In Space
The news is not much better for satellite TV thanks to another dismal quarter for Dish Network, which on Monday reported a staggering net loss of 134,000 pay-TV subscribers for the three-month period ended March 31. This is the fourth consecutive quarter of pay-TV subscriber declines for Dish, which has been embroiled in a number of high-profile contract disputes with media companies in recent months.
Notably, a three-week blackout of the high-rated Fox News Channel in December and January had throngs of viewers vowing to cancel their subscriptions. Judging by the last two quarters -- in which Dish posted combined net losses of almost 200,000 pay-TV subscribers -- many viewers made good on their promise.
Moffett said he thinks the industry’s woes may continue. “Although Dish Network points to programming disputes with Turner and 21st Century Fox as an important contributing factor to its subscriber losses, this quarter marks an important milestone: the satellite TV subsector reported its first quarter of negative pay-TV growth. We suspect it won’t be the last.”
By contrast, Dish Network’s competitor, DirecTV, gained 60,000 pay-TV subscribers in the quarter, its second consecutive quarter of growth. Another bright spot on the report was the telecommunications sector. AT&T’s U-Verse and Verizon FiOS posted quarterly gains of 50,000 and 90,000 subscribers, respectively. All told, the telecom pay-TV sector grew 8.4 percent in the quarter. That still represents a slowdown from a year ago, when the sector grew 13.6 percent, but in this industry, you take whatever good news you can get.