If you cut the cord, do cable companies not bleed? With more and more viewers opting to watch television over the Internet, the country’s largest cable and satellite providers hemorrhaged pay-television subscribers in the third quarter of 2014, according to a new report from Leichtman Research Group, a media research firm.
The report, released Friday, shows the top 13 pay-TV providers posted a net loss of almost 150,000 subscribers in the period ended Sept. 30, the largest loss of any third quarter in the industry’s history. Historically, cable companies would fare better in the third quarter as students returned to school, but that was not the case this year.
Time Warner Cable Inc., the country’s second-largest cable provider, took the biggest hit, losing 182,000 pay-TV subscribers. While the loss is significant, it’s still an improvement over the same period last year, when the company lost 304,000.
Comcast Corporation, the country’s largest cable company, lost 81,000 in the quarter, compared to 129,000 for the same period last year.
The two major satellite-TV providers, Dish Network and DirecTV, had a particularly tough quarter. Dish lost 12,000 subscribers, while DirecTV lost 28,000 subscribers. Both companies had posted net gains during the same period last year.
Many Dish customers have grown intensely frustrated with the company over its carriage dispute with Turner Broadcasting, which has resulted in the blackout of several channels, including CNN, Cartoon Network and Turner Classic Movies. Dish Network’s chairman has remained defiant, saying few viewers have actually canceled their Dish subscriptions as a result of the dispute.
For now, we’ll just have to wait and see, since the dispute began after the end of the third quarter and is not reflected in the new report.
Bruce Leichtman, the firm’s president and principal analyst, said the seasonal pay-TV industry had shown modest improvements in the first and second quarters, and may rebound a bit over the next few months. “If recent history is an indicator, the pay-TV industry will follow the fourth-quarter trend, and close 2014 with a modest subscriber gain in the quarter,” he said in a statement.
Still, the broader picture is dim for traditional pay television. Over the last year, major pay-TV providers showed a net loss of 105,000 subscribers, compared to about 45,000 for the prior year.
Read the full report here.