Cord Cutting Quickens in Q2 for Comcast, Charter and Verizon, But Where Are All of Those Customers Going?

Cord cutting
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Things are tough all over in the technology-media-telecom sector -- not only are big streaming companies like Netflix and Roku experiencing suddenly stalled growth and chilly investor relations, a retreat back to the comforts of linear distribution looks like a nonstarter. 

Three of the five largest traditional bundlers of pay TV channels in America delivered second-quarter earnings reports this week, and each revealed marked increases in the number of customers ditching linear video service. 

Verizon lost 86,000 Fios TV customers in Q2 vs. 62,000 in the same period of last year. 

Comcast lost 512,000 pay TV customers in the second quarter, up from 399,000 in Q2 2021. 

Charter Communications bled out another 240,000 Spectrum TV customers from April to June, up from just 63,000 in the same period last year. Two years ago, amid a flurry of broadcast connectivity signups from suddenly quarantined and desperate new customers, Charter added 94,000 video subscribers in Q2. 

Dish Network, which lost 132,000 linear satellite TV customers in the second quarter of last year, will report metrics for Dish satellite and Sling TV in a few weeks. 

And soon, Disney will also offer insight on Hulu+ Live TV. Beyond that, we have pretty much all the publicly effacing cord-cutting picture we're likely to get, and it ain't pretty. 

Where are these pay TV refugees going to get their TV fix?

Roku, which had a miserable Q2 report Thursday amid what appears to be slowing advanced advertising sales, did say that its active user growth perked up in the second quarter, increasing to 1.8 million users versus 1.2 million in Q1. 

Beyond that, the video business is becoming a shrouded realm, full of spinoffs and joint ventures that are harder to get metrics on. 

Comcast, for example, noted Thursday that its app-based video JV with Charter will come off the books in the third quarter. The cable giant will stop revealing customer and financial data on services like the ad-supported Xumo, and it won't be compelled to talk about how many out-of-footprint customers are getting into platforms like XClass TV.

Essentially, Comcast's entire portfolio of app-based, beyond-footprint video experiences is going behind a wall, so we won't be able to necessarily trade a clean line between customers, say, ditching the traditional Xfinity X1 Full Monty and adopting X1-like app-based viewing via an XClass smart TV. 

Indeed, there are more dark places to hide in the video business than not these days. That starts with the vast market capitalizations of the tech giants, who rarely drill down on the quarterly usage metrics of their video apps and CTV device platforms. 

While revealing a net loss of nearly $2 billion in the second quarter on Thursday, Amazon didn't come close to drilling down on how many folks use Amazon Prime Video worldwide, or its connected TV platform, Amazon Fire TV. 

Likewise, Apple hasn't once revealed a subscriber -- or even active user -- metric for Apple TV Plus. How many active users does the Apple TV 4K CTV ecosystem have? Outside of research company estimates, we have no clue. 

Meanwhile, before it revealed decelerating Q2 ad sales for its YouTube platform, Google/Alphabet said its virtual MVPD, YouTube TV, had reached 5 million users. But we have no idea when that benchmark was actually reached or how fast the streaming service -- now the fifth largest pay TV platform -- is growing ... or not growing. Alphabet rarely drills down on it for its investors. 

Back in the realm of linear, AT&T still owns the third largest linear pay TV brand in America, DirecTV, which encompasses satellite TV, the DirecTV-branded vMVPD service and the legacy U-verse TV platform. These services collectively shed around 473,00 customers in the second quarter of 2021. But again, since AT&T spun DirecTV off last year in a JV with private equity, we no longer have a visual. ■

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!