Cord-Cutters Drive Pay TV Q2 Sub Losses

Pay TV service providers lost 566,000 subscribers in the second quarter, a 76% increase from the 321,000 shed in the same period last year, driven by sharp declines in satellite and telco TV customers.

The losses come on the heels of a sharp drop in cable stocks over the past few days, driven by fears of increased cord-cutting and the threat of over-the-top video services. Cable stocks, mainly programmers, lost about $60 billion in market value between Aug. 5 and Aug. 6,. While those declines started to level off Aug. 7,  after satellite giant DirecTV quietly released its second quarter results Friday night, those fears apparently were warranted.

“Cord cutting did indeed accelerate markedly in the second quarter, just as we were afraid it would,” MoffettNathanson principal and senior analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a note to clients, adding that the declines cannot be written off to mere seasonality. While pay TV almost always loses customers in the second quarter as subscribers leave school or move to summer residences, the overall loss rate is accelerating rapidly. According to Moffett, in 2014, the pay TV sector was shrinking at a rate of about 0.1% -- today, it is declining at a rate of about 0.7%.

“That may not seem like a mass exodus, but it is a big change in a short period of time,” Moffett wrote. “And the rate of decline is still accelerating.” 

Net subscriber losses were up sharply at DirecTV – which completed its $48.5 billion merger with AT&T on July 24 – to 133,000 in the period, more than double analysts’ estimates and nearly four times the 34,000 loss in the same period of 2014. Coupled with Dish Network’s loss of 81,000 net subscribers in the period – and adding an estimated 70,000 additional subscribers attributed to Sling TV -- and total satellite TV subscriber declines in the period were 284,000, nearly four times the 78,000 lost in the second quarter of 2014.

Telco TV companies like Verizon and AT&T lost a collective 2,000 subscribers in the period, compared to a gain of 29,000 customers a year ago.

Cable companies actually fared better – the sector lost about 280,000 customers in the period, almost half the 534,000 shed a year ago. At about 1.9%, the rate of decline for the cable sector dipped below 2% for the first time in seven years, according to Moffett.

In his note, Moffett said the declines also come during a period of housing growth.  According to U.S. Census data, 1.6 million new homes were formed on an annualized basis in 2015, more than twice the 696,000 formed in the proior year.

“Those new households are nowhere to be found in the Pay TV data,” Moffett wrote, which is understandable because those homes are being formed by millennials who are more likely to cut the cord or never have it in the first place. As a result, Moffett estimated that cord-cutters rose to 1.9 million in the second quarter (2.3 million on an annualized basis) from 611,000 in the same period last year.