Cord cutting climbs to 976K users, SNL Kagan's official tally says

Cord cutting
The tally doesn’t include virtual MVPD services.

Linear pay-TV services lost 976,000 customers in the second quarter, said research company SNL Kagan, delivering the most comprehensive tally of the three-month period’s record cord cutting to date. 

Traditional cable, satellite and telco MVPD services have lost a combined 1.8 million user in 2017, with the number of pay-TV homes in the U.S. dropping to 96.1 million, SNL Kagan said. (The SNL Kagan numbers were reported by Multichannel News.)

RELATED: Linear pay TV lost 941K subscribers in Q2, still the worst quarter ever

The tally doesn’t include virtual MVPD services—Dish Network’s Sling TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now platforms have around 1.9 million subscribers between them, the research company added. 

Separately, Leichtman Research Group released its own second-quarter tally for the top 10 linear pay-TV operators, finding that the combined forces of AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Dish, Verizon, Cox, Altice, Frontier, Mediacom and Cable One lost 893,000 users in during the period. 

LRG made several notable estimates: Privately held Cox Communications lost an estimated 30,000 pay-TV users in Q2, roughly flat with the second quarter of 2016. The research company also pegs Sling TV’s second-quarter subscriber gains at 85,000. Dish Network notoriously refuses to distinguish gains made by its less profitable vMVPD service from the huge recent customer losses of its legacy satellite TV platform. 

Some analysts had projected aggregate losses of more than 1.3 million users before second quarter earnings were announced. 

MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett was the first to render a combined tally, estimating that the pay-TV ecosystem had lost 941,000 users before vMVPD services were factored in. 

The rate of decline for these services reached 2.7%, close to the predicted 2.8%, Moffett added. The rate worsened from 2.5% in the first quarter. However, the acceleration of decline slowed, with the first quarter’s 2.5% rate having quickened from 1.8% in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Losses were clouded by a number of factors, not the least of which was the emerging virtual MVPD market, with operators like Dish Network not disclosing how many customers its traditional satellite business is losing and how many subscribers its virtual service, Sling TV, is gaining. 

“To put it politely, the data sucks,” Moffett said in his note to investors this morning. “Some vMVPDs report data, some don’t. Some include free subscribers still in their promotional windows, and some don’t. Some are included in recent periods but not in older ones. So take the vMVPD data with a grain of salt.”