Linear pay TV lost 319K subs in Q4 as cord cutting accelerated, analyst says

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The losses were in stark contrast to the 48,000 subscribers gained in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Traditional U.S. pay-TV platforms lost 319,000 subscribers in the U.S., according to an estimate made by MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett.

Moffett’s estimate, which includes fourth-quarter reports from the large publicly traded operators, and projections for privately held Cox Communications and Altice USA (which will report earnings next week), compared to a gain of 48,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2015.

“With the results now in from all of the largest operators, it is clear that cord-cutting of legacy distribution services—that is, without including OTT-delivered virtual MVPD bundles like Sling TV and DirecTV Now (and soon, YouTube TV)—has at last meaningfully accelerated,” Moffett said. “While there admittedly remain a few smaller operators left to report, the pay-TV business (as defined by traditional providers) ended 2016 shrinking at 1.7% per year, its fastest quarterly acceleration on record.”

RELATED: Comcast adds another 80K pay-TV subs in Q4, beats forecast

AT&T reported that its new IP-delivered DirecTV Now service signed up around 200,000 customers from its Nov. 30 launch to Dec. 31. But its legacy U-verse platform lost 262,000 customers in the fourth quarter, more than offsetting the 235,000 additional DirecTV satellite customers. 

Dish Network said DirecTV Now’s fast growth didn’t impact its own v-MVPD platform, Sling TV. Dish, which hadn’t reported customer growth in 10 quarters, added 28,000 customers in the fourth quarter, a result undoubtedly stemming from Sling TV gains and not the return to growth of the core Dish satellite platform. 

RELATED: Charter loses 105K former TWC video customers in Q4

Comcast reported the addition of 80,000 video customers, but No. 2 cable company Charter Communications said it lost 51,000, with conversions of acquired Time Warner Cable subscribers proving challenging. 

Overall, the U.S. pay-TV industry lost 1.7 million subscribers in 2016, a 1.7% shrinkage, said Moffett, who called it “the fastest rate of decline on record.”