Five of the leading television service providers in the United States lost over 640,000 television subscribers between them in the third quarter of 2017. With more results to be reported, net losses are looking larger than in the second quarter, during which they lost just over half a million television customers, with the top 10 services in the United States listed in the informitv Multiscreen Index losing almost 800,000. Although value may be shifting to broadband, the revenues remain significant.
Comcast lost 134,000 video subscribers, up from a loss of 45,000 the previous quarter, wiping out gains over the previous year to fall below the number at the start of 2016. It attributed about 20,000 losses to recent storms but pointed out that it gained 182,000 residential internet customers. It has gained 2.53 million internet customers in two years.
“Our broadband business is increasingly the epicentre of our relationship with customers and ultimately where we derive the majority of our profitability,” Brian Roberts, the chairman and chief executive of Comcast, told analysts. “We are committed to the video business, we saw this evolution coming and think we have invested in the pieces that will ultimately define long-term profitable success.”
Comcast wireline operating revenues for consumer markets were up, and total operating revenues were up, with net income of $3.75 billion for the quarter, which was about the same as the same quarter the year before.
Charter Spectrum lost 104,000 video customers, making a net loss of 345,000 in 12 months. Charter became the second largest cable company in the United States through the acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House. It has since focussed on more profitable customers, leading to a loss at the lower end.
Charter chairman and chief executive Tom Rutledge told analysts: “We expect that we can still grow a rich video package inside of our product bundles, and we think we’ll do that at the expense of our competitors, and we think the general category will continue to decline, slightly.”
Charter video revenue was up on the previous quarter and the previous year, as was total revenue, although earnings before interest and tax were down slightly at $3.82 billion for the quarter, compared to $3.85 billion the previous quarter.
DIRECTV shed 251,000, after losing 156,000 the quarter before, with subscriber numbers declining year-on-year for the first time. It still has 20.61 million customers, which is more than it had in the middle of 2016. Some of the losses it attributed to storms but the company said half of them were from “involuntary churn” because it had tightened its credit policies.
John Stephens, the chief financial officer for parent company AT&T, said he expected a net addition to the total video customer base in the fourth quarter, some of which will come from its online video offering. “We added nearly 300,000 DIRECTV NOW customers in the third quarter and have nearly 800,000 subscribers in total,” he said. “That’s incredible scale in less than a year of operation, and we expect that growth to continue. Most of those customers are new to our TV service, new to AT&T, about 700,000.”
The AT&T owned satellite service had been gaining at the expense of the U-verse telco offering, which lost 134,000 television customers. That was a lower loss than previous quarters. Nevertheless, U-verse has lost 2.16 million television customers in two years, or 38.5% of its subscriber base. From its peak of 5.97 million at the end of March 2015, it has fallen to 3.69 million.
AT&T reported higher revenues for its video entertainment services than in the previous quarter or the same period a year prior, at $9.20 billion. Total operating revenues were down marginally at $39.67 billion, compared to $39.84 billion the previous quarter and $40.89 billion a year previously.
Verizon Fios saw relatively modest losses in comparison, falling by 18,000, compared to a loss of 15,000 the previous quarter and 13,000 the quarter before that. Meanwhile, Verizon added 66,000 Fios internet connections in the third quarter “reflecting the ongoing shift from traditional linear video to over-the-top offerings”.
Matt Ellis, the chief financial officer of Verizon, repeated his view that “the traditional linear TV bundle is not long-term sustainable”. He added: “When you move to over-the-top for your video entertainment, the quality of that broadband connection becomes more important than ever.”
Verizon does not break out video revenues, but overall Fios quarterly revenues of $2.94 billion were up on the previous year, and total operating revenues of $31.72 billion for the quarter were up on the same period a year prior.
Results are still due from other operators, including DISH Network, which lost 196,000 in the second quarter of 2017 but gained 50,000 in the third quarter of 2016.
The executives from these companies put a positive spin on what look like large losses in traditional television customers. Notice that the video customer losses do not appear to be hitting the bottom line, where business is apparently booming.
The informitv Multiscreen Index tracks 100 leading pay-TV services worldwide and is published quarterly. It provides an industry benchmark against which television customer gains or losses can be measured, by region and mode of delivery, as well as ranking those with the largest subscriber gains or losses.