The top 6 cable, satellite and telco pay TV operators in the first quarter of 2020: Ranking Comcast, DirecTV, Charter and more

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The first-quarter earnings season has wrapped up for the top publicly traded pay TV operators in the U.S., and it's time to break down the numbers. FierceVideo has put together an overview of how the top cable, satellite and telco pay TV operators performed.

How the top six U.S. publicly traded pay TV operators performed in the first quarter in video (ranking by subscribers.)

Operators Video subscribers (mil.) Net additions (thousands)
1. Comcast 19.9 (388)
2. AT&T* 19.36 (1,035)
3. Charter 15.55 (70)
4. Dish Network* 11.32 (413)
5. Verizon 4.07 (84)
6. Altice USA 3.14 (42)

*AT&T's totals include U-verse, DirecTV, AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now; and Dish's include Sling TV.

Cord cutting sets another record

The U.S. pay TV industry has set another new record for subscriber losses in a quarter, thanks largely to the incredible beating satellite providers took. According to media analyst firm MoffettNathanson, traditional pay TV subscriptions dropped by 1.8 million in the first quarter, which is now the worst quarter on record and good enough to put the annual rate of decline on a 7.6% pace.

Craig Moffett said that what is “perhaps more distressing” than the elevated rate of traditional TV subscriber declines is that virtual MVPDs couldn’t pick up any of the slack. The firm estimated that U.S. vMVPDs lost a combined 341,000 subscribers and that the approximately 500,000 subscribers from PlayStation Vue (which shut down during the first quarter) don’t seem to made their way to other vMVPDs.

The COVID-19 crisis will spell trouble for Q2

The numbers for the first quarter were bad. MoffettNathanson pointed out that after the quarter, the number of non-subscribing households reached 46 million, taking traditional pay TV penetration down to 63% of occupied households, “a level not previously seen since roughly 1995.”

“With sports off the air, and with the pain of the tsunami of unemployment just beginning to hit as the quarter ended, all these numbers will get worse in Q2,” Moffett wrote in a research note.

Operators are bracing for a bigger impact during the second quarter. Outgoing AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said his company expects to see a more stressed economic environment throughout 2020 and that it could cause people to adjust their lifestyles, which might include getting rid of pay TV.

Comcast’s net video subscriber losses for the first quarter were nearly 300,000 higher than the same quarter one year ago and the company said it expected to see the same year over year increase moving forward, due in part to economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.