Pay-TV Cord-Cutting Slightly Eases Again in Q2 As vMVPD Subs Grow, But Losses Are Mounting

September 13, 2018

This article is included in these additional categories:

Digital | Industries | Media & Entertainment | Pay-TV & Cord-Cutting | Television | Video

Pay-TV providers continue to face cord-cutting behavior from consumers, but Q2 2018 – just like Q1 – turned out to be slightly less painful again than in the year-earlier period. That’s according to data from the Leichtman Research Group (LRG), which found the major traditional pay-TV services (excluding internet-delivered services) shedding 800,000 subscribers in Q2 of this year, compared to 930,000 in Q2 2017.

The numbers are more encouraging when factoring in pay-TV providers’ internet-delivered services – Sling TV and DIRECTV NOW. Those services added about 383,000 subscribers during the quarter (compared to 287,000 net adds in Q2 2017), bringing them to a total subscriber size exceeding 4.1 million. Adjusting for those, the largest pay-TV providers in the US – representing roughly 95% of the market – lost roughly 415,000 subscribers, down from a contraction of 660,000 subscribers in Q2 2017. That’s the fewest losses in a second quarter since 2014, per LRG.

Recent data from comScore highlights the growing popularity of vMVPD services. In April 2018, almost 5 million US households (or around 5% of US households) streamed a pure-play vMVPD on their TV screen, per comScore, representing a 58% year-over-year increase. Not only that, but older viewers are increasingly adopting these services, with households headed by people ages 45 and older representing almost half (46%) of subscribers.

Nielsen also weighed in on vMVPD penetration recently in its Total Audience Report [download page], though its figures show lower average adoption than those of comScore. According to Nielsen, 2.7% of TV households were subscribed to a virtual multichannel video programming distributor (vMVPD) as of March, with that figure almost double (4.9%) among Asian-American households.

As LRG notes, “This newer segment of the industry has helped to mitigate overall pay-TV losses, while also contributing to a share shift from traditional services. This shift is both a product of consumers opting for more economical services, as well as changes in providers’ strategies.”

Top Phone Companies Continue to Fare Better

Many of the trends highlighted in Q1 remained constant in Q2, marked by the better performance of top phone companies such as Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse. With a net loss of fewer than 50,000 subscribers, these providers had their best quarter since Q3 2015. For comparison, in Q2 2017 these providers shed 270,000 subscribers.

The top cable companies’ subscriber losses, by contrast, widened from roughly 190,000 in Q2 2017 to 275,000 this past quarter. And the top satellite TV services shed slightly more subscribers this past quarter (~480,000) than in the year-earlier period (~470,000).

All told, the top pay-TV providers had about 91.3 million subscribers at the end of the period. So while the losses may be decelerating slightly, traditional pay-TV providers have shed close to 8 million subscribers since their peak in Q1 2012, per the report, although they’ve offset some of those losses with the gain of more than 4 million subscribers for Internet-delivered services.

Broadband Market Expands

Finally, separate LRG data demonstrates that the broadband market continues to grow, with the largest providers (again representing about 95% of the market) adding roughly 455,000 subscribers during the quarter, up from a 235,000-gain in Q2 2017. The market continues to shift towards cable providers at the expense of phone companies, with the former having a 65% market share at the end of Q2 2018, up from 61% at the end of Q1 2016.

The top broadband providers collectively had more than 97 million subscribers at the end of the period, almost 6 million more than the pay-TV subscriber base.


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