The long-term cord-cutting trend bit the various paid TV service companies hard in 2018, with customer losses across the board. In Q4, ATT lost 658,000 paid TV subscribers, while the Dish network dropped 334K subscribers, falling below 10 million subscribers for the first time since 2004. According to Walter Piecyk with BTIG Research, the total decline in pay-TV subscribers was 2.5M for the year.
2018 PayTV net adds
Sub-total -2.5 million
— Walter Piecyk (@WaltBTIG) February 13, 2019
To put that in perspective, there are currently 89.51M pay-TV subscribers in the United States, or at least that was the case in Q2 2018 when this data was published by Statista:
Declines appear to have accelerated in Q3 and Q4 based on reports in the back half of the year. USA Today wrote in November that the industry had shed 1.1M subscribers from July through September, and that appears to match the Q4 totals for 2018 according to Piecyk in a separate tweet. A 2.4 percent decline in the total subscriber base isn’t going to wreck anyone’s business in the short term, but it emphasizes that the long-term cord-cutter trend isn’t going away.
The question of what’s going to replace it, however, is anything but clear. The old idea that we’d be able to subscribe to a single service like Netflix or even a pair of services is clearly history. Now there’s Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, alongside HBO Go, Disney’s upcoming media service, and projects like CBS All Access, which are gatekeeping shows like Star Trek Discovery in an effort to force fans to sign up for the network. As companies begin to compete with these projects, they yank their own licensed content off other services — nobody expects a scrap of Disney or Marvel content to stick around on Netflix very long after the company’s new service launches, and the recent cancelation of pretty much every Marvel TV show is evidence that the collaboration between the two firms is dead.
Cord-cutting was once sold as a way for customers to save money and it may indeed remain such for people who are willing to subscribe to only a handful of services. But the trend at this point seems to point towards a recreation of the same fundamental system in a different form factor. By the time we’ve paid out all the nickels and dimes, long-term, the total savings may be minuscule.
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