Cable Suffers its First Annual Net Subscriber Loss

DURHAM, N.H.—U.S. cable companies suffered their first net annual subscriber loss in 2012, according to research firm Leichtman Research Group, Inc.

Satellite services (e.g. DirecTV, DISH) and fiber services from AT&T and Verizon experienced gains, but their growth slowed.

The thirteen largest multichannel video providers in the US, which represent about 94 percent of the market, added approximately 195,000 net additional video subscribers in Q1 2013. However, quarterly net multichannel video gains in Q1 2013 were down compared to Q1 2012 and Q1 2011, which had a a net gain of about 445,000 and 470,000, respectively.

These gains were not enough to offset subscriber losses from Q2 and Q3 2012, leaving major providers with a net loss of about 80,000 subscribers over the past year, compared to a net gain of about 380,000 over 2011.

The top multichannel video providers account for about 94.9 million subscribers. The top nine cable companies have over 51 million video subscribers, satellite TV companies have 34.2 million subscribers, and top telephone companies have nearly 9.7 million.

The top nine cable companies lost about 264,000 video subscribers in Q1 2013, and about a 1,560,000 over the course of the past year. The year prior saw a loss of about 1,535,000 subscribers.

The top telephone providers added 401,000 video subscribers in Q1 2013, and 1,319,000 over the past year. These companies had 1,475,000 net additions over the prior year.

Satellite TV providers added 57,000 subscribers in Q1 2013— the fewest in any Q1 over the past decade. These providers added 160,000 subscribers over the past year; the prior year, they experienced a gain of 439,000.

“First-time ever annual industry-wide losses reflect a combination of a saturated market, an increased focus from providers on acquiring higher-value subscribers, and some consumers opting for a lower-cost mixture of over-the-air TV, Netflix and other over-the-top viewing options,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, Inc. “The traditionally weak second quarter is sure to show additional net subscriber losses, but it is unlikely that these current modest industry losses are a harbinger of a more dramatic near-term market decline.”