The six leading pay-television services in the United States gained 125,000 subscribers overall in the last quarter of 2015. The informitv Multiscreen Index shows that they collectively lost 781,000 subscribers over the year. It is the first year since the launch of telco television services by AT&T and Verizon that these six operators have collectively lost subscribers. DISH Network lost 81,000 subscribers and now describes its linear satellite television distribution as “a mature to declining business”.

Until 2015, subscriber gains by AT&T and Verizon compensated for losses by any of the other leading pay-television providers. The six leading operators in the United States actually gained 11.46 million television subscribers between them from the end of 2006 to the end of 2015.

These six companies collectively lost subscribers in 2015, although the loss represents less than 1% of their combined subscriber base. They still ended 2015 with more subscribers than they had at the end of 2012.

While four of the six leading services lost television subscribers over the year, only two reported subscriber losses in the last quarter.

Top 6 listed television service providers in the United States, Millions of television subscribers. Source: informitv Multiscreen Index.

DIRECTV, now part of AT&T, reported a gain of 214,000 television subscribers in the United States, while AT&T U-verse lost 240,000. This was partly a result of AT&T promotions for DIRECTV. The bigger picture for AT&T is about being able to offer a ‘TV Everywhere’ experience both inside and outside the home.

Randall Stephenson, the chairman and chief executive of AT&T, said the acquisition of DIRECTV “is really accelerating our introduction of next-generation TV, and the DIRECTV content agreements combined with our networks is proving to be a very powerful combination”. The two services now have almost 29 million television customers between them.

Comcast, for a long time the leading pay-television service provider, now has 22.35 million television subscribers, gaining 89,000 in the last quarter, although it was down by 36,000 over the year. Brian Roberts, the chairman and chief executive of Comcast said these were “the best yearly video subscriber results that we’ve had in nine years”. He added: “our fourth-quarter video net additions were our strongest quarterly results since the first quarter of 2007.” This was partly attributed to its X1 set-top box, which now represents 30% of its video customer base.

DISH Network lost 12,000 in the quarter and 81,000 over the year. That took its total, including Sling TV customers, to 13.90 million. The company does not break out its Sling TV subscribers, but suggests that the “vast majority” were not previously pay-tv subscribers.

Time Warner Cable added 54,000 video customers in the last quarter and 32,000 over the year, arresting a long-term decline. It ended the year with 10.82 million video customers. Rob Marcus, the chairman and chief executive of Time Warner Cable said: “It’s been a long time since we talked about full year video net adds.” In fact, they were the highest additions since 2006.

Charter, which as announced plans to merge with Time Warner Cable and acquire Bright House Networks, gained 29,000 television customers in the last quarter of 2015 and lost just 2,000 over the year.

Verizon added 20,000 Fios television customers, up 178,000 over the year to 5.83 million, overtaking AT&T U-verse.

United States
Service Change
125,300 78.29
Comcast 89,000 22.35
DIRECTV US 214,000 19.78
DISH Network -12,000 13.90
Time Warner Cable 54,000 10.82
Verizon Fios 20,000 5.83
AT&T U-verse -240,000 5.61
Residential digital television subscriber numbers at the end of December 2015 for the 6 leading pay-television services in the United States.
Source: informitv Multiscreen Index

Charlie Ergen, the co-founder and once again chief executive of DISH, said that in a more competitive market, given the costs associated with subscriber acquisition, the company wanted to concentrate on gaining satellite customers that are profitable in the long term.

He told analysts with characteristic candour: “It’s not that we’re giving up on linear satellite customers, it’s still a great business. It still throws off a lot of cash and there’s long-term customers that just aren’t going to go anywhere given where they live.” He described satellite as a “mature to declining business nationwide and certainly a declining business at least in the short-term for us.”

However, he described the over the top Sling TV business as “a significant growth opportunity” and “a wave of the future for class of customers we can’t get today,” particularly customers in urban areas with broadband who cannot have a satellite dish. He said: “I think our value will be driven by how well we execute on OTT and how well we run a mature to declining business in linear TV.”

The Multiscreen Index tracks trends in annual and quarterly changes in subscriber numbers. The index of 100 leading pay-television services worldwide 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.