DirecTV’s subscriber churn woes could continue in Q4 as promo pricing ends

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DirecTV's fourth quarter could be a mix of improved ARPU and continued subscriber churn. (DirecTV)

DirecTV was hit with record subscriber losses during the third quarter, and that trend could continue due to the timing around some promotional pricing.

During the third quarter, AT&T posted net subscriber losses of 346,000 for its traditional pay TV services, DirecTV and U-verse. In a new research report, analyst firm MoffettNathanson said that as promos launched in mid-June 2016 expire, AT&T should see average revenue per user go up. But it could also see some significant churn based on how much rates increase after the promotional pricing period ends for many customers.

“To the extent that rates do rise significantly for that much of the subscriber base, one might reasonably expect elevated churn in response. There is no such thing as a free lunch,” MoffettNathanson wrote.

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MoffettNathanson explains that for the first year of the promotional pricing, AT&T didn’t see any material impact on EBITDA or ARPU. But after that, customers in the second year of the promotion were being stacked on top of the normal amount of promotional pricing subscribers, and so by June 2018 DirecTV had as much as 40% of its subscriber base on promotional pricing.

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With that stacking of promotional pricing subscribers beginning to run off in September 2018, the firm believes earnings will bounce back.

"In the next quarter, Q4, we would expect to see a more material benefit to YoY comparisons for ARPU and EBITDA, as the number of customers on introductory promotional pricing will be lower than in the year-ago period,” MoffettNathanson wrote.

But the firm warned that it’s still unclear how material the impact will be, pointing toward recent AT&T management comments suggesting the company will be accommodating to customers coming off promotional pricing to avoid high levels of churn.