Cord cutting and pay TV subscriber losses greatly accelerated in 2019 – thanks largely to rapid erosion of AT&T’s base – and that trend is expected to continue in 2020.
UBS predicted that the U.S. pay TV industry will lose another 6.2 million video subscribers in 2020, down slightly from the 6.4 million the analyst firm predicts will be lost in total this year. If that loss comes to bear it will represent a 6.7% rate of decline, ahead of 6.2% in 2019 and well ahead of 1.2% in 2018 when video subscriber losses totaled 1.2 million.
“We now expect industry losses to remain in the 6-7% per year range for the medium term, suggesting worsening trends in domestic core affiliate into next year,” wrote UBS analyst John Hodulik in a research report. He said that improvement at AT&T will likely be offset by worsening trends for cable providers and other MVPDs.
That doesn’t mean that AT&T is out of the woods just yet with video subscriber declines. UBS predicts that the company will lose another 2.6 million subscribers in 2020, down 13% from 2019 when the company is expected to account for approximately two-thirds of all U.S. video subscriber losses.
In the meantime, cable providers’ continued focus on internet and not video as their key product could lead to accelerated video subscriber losses in 2020.
“Charter's recent price increase and the likely adoption of the Flex/Peacock bundle by the industry are signs that video sub losses have fallen down the list of concerns with cable mgmt,” wrote Hodulik. “We now expect the cable industry to lose 2.8M subs in 2020, up from 2.1M in 2019, offsetting much of the benefit of fewer losses at AT&T.”
UBS also expects virtual MVPD growth to slow down in 2020, particularly as PlayStation Vue prepares to shut down in January and AT&T TV Now appears to be winding down. The firm said it has seen fewer promotions at the large vMVPDs and that Disney guidance for improving Hulu losses make them unlikely. UBS believes Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV have been adding around 100,000 to 200,000 subscribers per quarter and expects that trend to continue while smaller providers struggle with financing.