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Pay-TV Finds Momentum via vMVPDs, Per LRG

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DURHAM, N.H.—While Leichtman Research Group’s report on the largest pay-TV providers’ third quarter 2020 video subscribers showed a net loss of about 120,000 subscribers, it actually represents one of the best quarters for the industry recently, in large part thanks to the growth of virtual MVPD services. It may be even better if recent YouTube TV news is factored in.

Q3 2020’s loss of 120,000 subscribers is a huge swing from the nearly 945,000 subscribers LRG reported were lost in Q3 2019. All services saw a smaller dip in its subscriber numbers year-over-year: satellite TV services lost about 775,000 in Q3 2020 compared to 1.14 million in 2019; the top seven cable companies lost 375,000, better than 2019’s 410,000; and telephone providers lost just 5,000 versus the 210,000 lost last year. 

When you combine the vMVPD services that LRG reports on (Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, AT&T TV Now and fuboTV), which added 1.03 million subscribers in Q3 2020 (up year-over-year from 815,000), you get the net loss of 120,000 subscribers.

However, LRG’s report does not include numbers from the Google-owned vMVPD YouTube TV. It was announced in October that YouTube TV had crossed the 3 million subscriber milestone, including the addition of 1 million subscribers in 2020. It’s possible that the gains from YouTube TV could put pay-TV in the black for Q3 2020.

In total, LRG reports that the top pay-TV providers now have 82.6 million subscribers. That is made up of 44.3 million from the top seven cable companies; 22.6 million from satellite TV services; 8 million from top telephone providers; and 7.7 million from the available vMVPD services.

“With the return of live sports in 3Q 2020, internet-delivered vMVPDs had more net additions than in any previous quarter, and pay-TV overall had fewer net losses than in any quarter since 1Q 2018,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group Inc.  “It is more important than ever before to recognize vMVPDs as a key segment of the live pay-TV industry. Hulu + Live TV is now the fifth largest pay-TV service in the U.S., and YouTube TV (which is not part of LRG’s tracking data because it does not formally report quarterly results) now has over 3 million subscribers, including 1 million net additions thus far in 2020.”