Painful 2019 for U.S. pay TV: 4.9 million subs lost

March 3, 2020
According to the Leichtman Research Group, the largest U.S. pay TV providers - representing about 95% of the market - lost about 4,915,000 net video subscribers in 2019 ...

According to the Leichtman Research Group, the largest U.S. pay TV providers - representing about 95% of the market - lost about 4,915,000 net video subscribers in 2019, compared to a pro forma loss of about 1,585,000 subscribers in 2018. That's 3.3 million more net losses than in any previous year, led by losses in the direct broadcast satellite (DBS) market.

The top pay TV providers account for 86.2 million subscribers - with the top seven cable companies having 45.8 million video subscribers, satellite TV services 25.4 million, the top telcos 8.3 million, and the top three publicly reporting Internet-delivered (vMVPD) pay TV services 6.7 million.

Among the findings:

  • Satellite TV services lost about 3,700,000 subscribers in 2019, compared to a net loss of about 2,360,000 subscribers in 2018. DIRECTV lost about 3,190,000 subscribers in 2019, compared to a net loss of about 1,235,000 subscribers in 2018. In 2019, DBS services cumulatively lost 12.7% of video subscribers, compared to a loss of 7.5% in 2018.
  • The top seven cable companies lost about 1,560,000 video subscribers in 2019, compared to a net loss of about 920,000 subscribers in 2018. In 2019, the top cable providers cumulatively lost 3.3% of video subscribers, compared to a loss of 1.9% in 2018.
  • The top telephone companies lost about 665,000 video subscribers in 2019, compared to a net loss of about 245,000 in 2018. In 2019, the top telcos cumulatively lost 7.4% of video subscribers, compared to a loss of 2.6% in 2018.
  • The top publicly reporting Internet-delivered (vMVPD) services (Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, and AT&T TV NOW) added about 1,010,000 subscribers in 2019, compared to about 1,940,000 net adds in 2018. Subscribers to those vMVPD services increased by 18% in 2019, compared to an increase of about 50% in 2018.
  • AT&T had a net loss of about 4,120,000 subscribers across its three pay TV services (DIRECTV, AT&T U-verse, and AT&T TV NOW) in 2019, compared to a net loss of about 750,000 subscribers in 2018. AT&T accounted for 84% of pay TV net losses in 2019, compared to 48% of net losses in 2018.

"Overall, the top pay TV providers lost 5.4% of subscribers in 2019 compared to a loss of 1.7% in 2018," said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for LRG. "The significant increase in pay TV net losses in 2019 was both a function of consumers having more video options, and the decisions by AT&T and other providers to increasingly focus on long-term profitability in acquiring and retaining subscribers."