Cable cord cutting increased in Q1 while broadband growth dipped, Leichtman tally says

Scissors cutting cord
While cord cutting was down for the broader pay TV sector, it more than doubled for cable in the first quarter. (Pixabay)

The top six cable operators lost 285,414 pay TV subscribers in the first quarter, more than doubling the 114,059 lost in the first three months of 2017, Leichtman Research reported.

The significant uptick in cord cutting for cable came as growth slowed for these operators’ broadband businesses. The top six MSOs added 894,497 high-speed internet users in the first quarter, down from just over 1 million in the comparable 2017 period. 

For cable, the losses were not offset by growth of virtual pay TV platforms. Both DirecTV and Dish Network lost around 185,000 satellite TV subscribers each in the first quarter. But DirecTV’s owner, AT&T, picked up 312,000 virtual DirecTV Now customers during the period. Dish’s Sling TV, meanwhile, added 91,000 customers.

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Overall, the top 13 pay TV platforms lost 304,414 users in the first quarter, down from 408,059 in the first quarter of 2017.

Leitchman noted that the top cable operators have lost 3.4 million TV subscribers since 2012.

"The number of pay-TV subscribers for the top providers peaked six years ago. Since 1Q 2012, top providers have lost about 3.4 million total pay-TV subscribers," analyst Bruce Leichtman said in a statement. "Since the industry’s peak, traditional services have lost about 7.2 million subscribers, while the top publicly reporting Internet-delivered services gained about 3.8 million subscribers."

Meanwhile, despite their slowing customer growth in broadband, cable operators continued to grab market share from telecom companies in the first quarter, with the top telco operators shedding over 45,000 subscribers during the periods.

Cable operators now control over 64% of the U.S. wireline broadband industry. 

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The slowing growth of residential broadband customers has been a key part of the narrative for cable companies on Wall Street recently, where Comcast, Charter and other cable stocks have suffered double-digit declines. 

“In a span of a few short months, cable has fallen badly out of favor,” MoffettNathan analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a note to investors this week. “We don’t need to rehash the litany of horribles about video, broadband and M&A here. Suffice it to say that there is no cable company out there that hasn’t been painted with a black brush."