The top 6 cable, satellite and telco pay TV operators in Q3 2018: Ranking Comcast, DirecTV, Charter and more

Finance earnings stock ticker graph
FierceVideo takes a look at how the top publicly traded pay TV operators did this quarter. (Getty/monsitj)

The third-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 according to metrics including subscriber growth and market share.

After a somewhat solid second quarter, video losses came roaring back, particularly for satellite operators. Dish Network is busy getting its 5G network off the ground, so it can have a connectivity play to fall back on like DirecTV and its cable competitors. During the quarter, both Comcast and Charter managed to grow revenues despite video subscriber losses thanks to broadband.

In the meantime, the virtual MVPD growth trajectory story took a bit of a downward turn—both DirecTV Now and Sling TV again had slow quarters—while the complete streaming TV narrative is still emerging.

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How the top 7 U.S. publicly traded pay TV operators performed in Q3 in video (ranking by subscribers)

Operator Video subscribers (mil.) Net additions (thousands)
1. AT&T        25.18   (346)
2. Comcast  20.98 (95)
3. Charter  16.1 (66)
4. Dish Network  12.67 (341)
5. Verizon 4.5 (63)
6. Altice USA 3.32 (28)

Cord cutting 2: This time it’s personal

By our count, the top six publicly traded pay TV services in the U.S. gave back a whopping 939,000 video subscribers. By factoring in the 75,000 subscribers top virtual MVPDs Sling TV and DirecTV Now added during the quarter, traditional pay TV subscriber losses top 1 million.

Media analyst firm MoffettNathanson placed the overall pay TV subscriber losses even higher, at about 1.1 million. The firm said its estimates don’t include vMVPDs nor do they factor in some privately held cable operators, like Cable One and WideOpenWest. Still, it said the numbers are “quite reliable.”

“It is the largest quarterly loss ever (the first time ever that the industry lost over 1M subscribers in a quarter), and is nearly 30% larger than the loss a year ago,” MoffettNathanson wrote.

MoffettNathanson chart Q3 2018
MoffettNathanson chart Q3 2018 2

MoffettNathanson said the story for pay TV gets worse when considering factors outside of subscriber performance like the rate of new household formation in the U.S. The firm said the past 12 months suggest growth at around 250,000 new households per quarter. Coupled with pay TV penetration figures of around 80%, the firm said the expectation should be that pay TV is adding about 200,000 subscribers per quarter.

“To the extent that we are not seeing these new households in subscriber data, we can conclude that cord cutting has accelerated more than it appears based on reported subscribership data along,” the firm wrote.

Any way you slice it, it was a very bad quarter for pay TV.

Market share holds steady

DBS providers Dish Network and DirecTV combined to post the biggest subscriber losses during the quarter. Combined, the two companies gave back 726,000 traditional video subscribers, a large majority of the total industry losses during the quarter.

In the meantime, Charter and Comcast both scaled back their losses from one year ago, when they lost 104,000 and 134,000 subscribers, respectively. According to Evercore, other cable operators lost 143,000 subscribers versus losing 145,000 subs in the third quarter of 2017. Likewise, Evercore said telco overall subscriber losses of 75,000 subscribers were an improvement over 173,000 losses one year ago.

Despite the discrepancy, pay TV subscriber market share has held steady over the past three years.

Evercore Q3 2018
Evercore Q3 2018 2