The pace of cord-cutting accelerated in 2018, with the largest pay-TV providers shedding about 2.9 million video subscribers, nearly double the 1.5 million subscriber losses in 2017, according to the latest study by Leichtman Research Group.
The research firm, which tracks providers covering about 95% of the market, found that gains from virtual MVPD services (aka “skinny bundles”) are not making up for the conventional subscriber losses. That indicates that a growing number of viewers are doing without pay-TV altogether, presumably in favor of lower-cost subscription services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video.
Satellite distributors DirecTV and Dish Network suffered the bulk of the losses, a collective 2.36 million in 2018, up from 1.55 million in 2017.
Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, said net pay-TV losses since the peak year of 2012 have totaled about 10 million, which has been offset by growth in internet-delivered, “skinny” TV packages. Even so, the total subscriber number is still significantly in the red.
Prominent skinny bundles DirecTV Now and Sling TV posted six-figure subscriber gains for the year and now have more than 4 million subscribers between them, but their rate of growth slowed to 19% in 2018 from 90% in 2017. Rival skinny bundles YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and PlayStation Vue do not publicly report subscriber numbers in the way that conventional distributors do, so Leichtman does not include them in its tally.
Even when those others are added to DirecTV Now and Sling, based on recent estimates from Wall Street analysts and other reports, all U.S. skinny bundles together have between 7 million and 8 million subscribers. That tally is less than 10% of the 89.1 million pay-TV homes in the U.S. (The last time the total pay-TV universe has been this small, on a pro-forma basis, was 2007.)
Recent quarterly financial reports have offered an unsettling snapshot of skinny bundles, particularly at DirecTV parent AT&T. The company has chalked up recent subscriber losses at DirecTV Now to the expiration of an aggressive set of promotional discounts, as well as the recent decision to raise prices.