The largest pay-TV providers in the U.S. lost nearly 2.1 million video subscribers in the first quarter, which is more than double the pro forma net loss of a bit more than 1 million in the same period a year ago.
Leichtman Research Group, which reported the number, said it was the highest level of cord-cutting on record. While COVID-19 is certainly a factor, as it began to shut down the U.S. economy in mid-March, the research firm said it was more of a “cord-never” issue than a cord-cutter one. Instead of dropping service, more customers are simply bypassing the pay bundle altogether.
“The record net losses were partly related to the impact of the coronavirus, but do not solely reflect consumers’ dropping services,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for the firm. “Several providers cited a decrease in connects as a key component of net losses in the quarter, rather than an increase in disconnects.”
The study looked at pay-TV providers accounting for 95% of the market, or about 83.9 million subscribers across cable, satellite, telecom and internet-delivered offerings.
Providers across the board have been moving to adjust their businesses in light of the changes rippling through the pay-TV ecosystem. For cable companies like Comcast and Charter, that means emphasizing broadband, where customer levels are increasing.
Satellite, a sector controlled by DirecTV and Dish Network, continues to lead the way in terms of the heaviest subscriber losses, shedding 1 million in the quarter, up from 810,000 in the year-ago period.
The increase in losses was more severe for the top seven cable companies, which saw a decline of 595,000 video subscribers, up from 335,000.
Internet-delivered packages like Sling TV, AT&T Now and Hulu + Live TV — initially dubbed “skinny bundles” before they added networks and increased prices — have not proven to be the great hope that they were initially considered. The publicly reporting players in the space lost 320,000 subscribers, compared with 225,000 net additions in the same period in 2019.