Pay TV losses could soon accelerate to 5M a year, RBC analyst says

Cord cutting

Customer losses in the traditional pay TV ecosystem could soon accelerate to around 5 million a year, RBC analyst Steven Cahall said. 

In a Thursday note to investors, Cahall cited a survey of 1,200 U.S. consumers, finding that only around 55% of respondents indicating plans to continue on with their pay-TV provider.

According to the analyst, that data suggest that “the floor that ultimately will keep the linear bundle” is only at around 68 million homes. SNL Kagan pegs current U.S. pay-TV homes at around 86 million.

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

In his analysis, Cahall said the linear pay TV universe lost about 2 million homes last year. This figure seems slightly high. Leichtman Research Group, which counts the top operators accounting for 95% of all U.S. pay TV customers, pegged linear pay TV customer losses at around 1.64 million in 2016. 

After a record-setting second quarter, during which operators lost 976,000 customers, according to SNL Kagan, cord-cutting stands at around 1.8 million through the first six months of 2017. 

With disruption to regions such as the Houston area and Florida due to hurricanes adding to the misery of a downward subscription trend, pay-TV analysts are already predicting dour third-quarter results. In fact, Comcast said it could report pay-TV customer losses of as many as 150,000 in Q3. 

Notably, however, RBC found that 21% of survey respondents indicated plans to switch to a  lower-cost virtual skinny bundle like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Hulu Live or YouTube TV. Cahall predicts that about 15% of virtual MVPD growth moving forward will come from folks switching over legacy cable, satellite and telco services. 

Only 10% will come from folks who never had traditional pay TV, Cahall added.