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Pay-TV Sees Record Loss in Q1, Reports MoffettNathanson

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NEW YORK—Pay-TV, like so many other industries at this point in time, is taking a significant hit in part because of the coronavirus pandemic. In MoffettNathanson’s “Q1 2020 Cord-Cutting Monitor” report, the data shows that the first quarter of 2020 brought upon a record number of pay-TV subscription losses.

Traditional pay-TV subscriptions fell by 1.8 million in Q1, the worst quarterly results on record, according to MoffettNathanson. This also brought the annual rate of decline to -7.6%, another record.

Satellite TV was hit the hardest, with the third consecutive quarter of more than 1 million subscriptions lost, resulting in an annual rate of decline of -14.3%. MoffettNathanson says that number would likely be worse if its numbers were able to include lost bars, restaurants and hotels that temporarily suspended Dish Network subscriptions. Cable, meanwhile, saw about 600,000 subscribers cut the cord, bringing its annual growth to -4%, another record low.

The 63% of households with pay-TV services is the lowest it has been since 1995. MoffettNathanson also says that are currently as many non-subscribing households (46 million) as there were pay-TV subscribers in 1988.

The unemployment impact of COVID-19 is definitely contributing to these statistics, but so is the loss of live sports content on the air. As a result, MoffettNathanson projects that things will get worse in Q2.

It’s not just traditional pay-TV subscriptions seeing significant losses. MoffettNathanson found that around 341,000 subscribers dropped vMVPD services in Q1. AT&T TV Now, Sling TV and fuboTV are all expected to have lost subscribers, according to MoffettNathanson. Services that have seen growth have been small—Hulu Live TV has added about 100,000 subscribers, a deceleration, and YouTube TV, which MoffettNathanson says is the fastest growing vMVPD service, was unable to make a dent in the losses.

A huge part of this is that when Sony’s PlayStation Vue service shut down at the end of January, MoffettNathanson reports that its nearly 500,000 subscribers did not add a new service to replace it.

Total pay-TV subscriptions, both traditional and vMVPD, are decreasing at a rate of 5.3% per year.

Many companies have or are planning to launch streaming services that are gaining popularity among viewers, even in these current times. But, as MoffettNathanson puts it, “it is increasingly clear that as consumers climb into these lifeboats, they are leaving the (sinking) motherships behind.” MoffettNathanson does not believe that these new streaming services will be able to match the profitability that traditional and vMVPD services would have.

“When one’s ‘last line of defense’ (vMVPDs) has been breached, it is not unreasonable to ask … has the war now been lost?,” MoffettNathanson’s report reads. “What’s at stake is nothing less than the viability of the traditional cable network model writ large.”