Tallying the top 10 pay-TV operators' subscriber losses in Q3 2016

Rolling 12-month pay-TV net additions, Q1 2010 to present. Chart: MoffettNathanson

The 10 biggest publicly traded pay-TV operators lost 230,400 video customers in the third quarter, a jump of around 53 percent over the same period in 2016, according to data culled by FierceCable from just-rendered earnings reports. 

The confirmed data is juxtaposed with cord-cutting tallies from analysts like MoffettNathanson’s Craig Moffett, who include estimates for privately held companies like Cox Communications, as well as the myriad smaller operators. Moffett estimates that pay-TV’s total losses for the quarter came in at around 486,000 when virtual platforms like Sling TV aren’t factored in. This performance in a traditionally weak quarter is only slightly worse than the 435,000 Moffett reported in the third quarter of 2015. 

RELATED: Major pay-TV operators down less than 150K video subs in Q3

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Comcast’s continues to regain market share lost over the last decade, picking up 32,000 subs in Q3. But Charter Communications, which is struggling to keep the promotion-heavy customer base of acquisition Time Warner Cable in the fold, lost 47,000 video users in the period. Altice USA lost 40,000 pay-TV customers across its former acquired Cablevision and Suddenlink footprints. And Cable One, which has largely forsaken video in its current business strategy, lost 9,400 pay-TV users in Q3.

We also count in our tally Mediacom, which isn’t public, but reports its quarterly performance as part of its credit situation — it lost 8,000 video customers during the quarter, giving publicly traded cable losses of 64,400 pay-TV users.

In satellite, DirecTV’s growth of 323,000 users in Q3 was offset by Dish Network’s reported loss of 116,000 customers. Moffett believes erosion to Dish’s core satellite platform continues to be hidden by the growth of virtual service Sling TV. He estimates Dish’s traditional tiers actually lost around 320,000 customers in the third quarter while Sling TV added an estimated 202,000. Moffett’s decision to include this inflated Dish satellite estimate and not include Sling TV explains much of how he gets to 486,000 lost subs. 

RELATED: Altice USA reports 2.7% revenue gain, slowing pay-TV losses of 28K for ex-Cablevision footprint in Q3

Among telco operators, AT&T’s decision to migrate its customers to DirecTV continues to diminish U-verse, which lost another 326,000 customers in the period. Verizon added 36,000 customers to FiOS. We didn’t include CenturyLink (added 8,000 Prism TV users in Q3) and Frontier Communications (lost 82,000). But we did this year. And retroactively adding them in gave us a total loss of around 145,000 for publicly traded pay-TV operators in the third quarter of 2015. 

So what does all this data mean?

According to Moffett, not that much. The third quarter “wasn’t all that interesting,” he noted, with pay-TV’s loss rate staying basically flat at 1.4 percent.

Of course, with potentially disruptive virtual services such as DirecTV Now and Hulu’s live-streaming platform about to launch, things should pick up in the coming quarters. 

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