U.S. pay-TV operators mark best quarter in years, report says

U.S. multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) posted their strongest quarterly customer growth numbers in years, adding a total of 202,670 customers in the first three months of 2014.

Cable customers fell by 132,330 during the quarter ended March 30, but it marked the lowest number of losses since the first quarter of 2011. In the last two years, according to IHS Technology, the cable industry has been losing an average 480,000 customers per quarter.

"The first quarter is generally the best time of the year for the U.S. cable market, and the start of 2014 was no exception," Erik Brannon, senior analyst for television media at IHS, said in a prepared statement. "Cable achieved its best quarter in years. However, the negative outlook for cable remains the same, as it is expected to continue to contract as AT&T's (NYSE: T) IPTV service is anticipated to keep gobbling up subscribers. Cable's renewed strength could be foreboding for satellite players Dish (NASDAQ: DISH) and DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV)."

Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), which are currently trying to tie the knot, both had strong first-quarter gains with Comcast adding 24,000 video customers, the second straight quarter of positive video subscriber growth for the company. Time Warner Cable still lost customers--34,000--but that's big improvement over the 118,000 loss the MSO experienced in the first quarter of 2013, IHS data showed.

At the same time, Dish Network added 40,000 subscribers, thanks to a marketing push of its Hopper/Sling box. DirecTV  signed on 12,000 new customers during the first three months of 2014. AT&T and Verizon (NYSE: VZ), combined for the weakest quarterly IPTV subscriber growth since 2007. AT&T and Verizon collectively generated video subscriber additions of 258,000, compared to 401,000 in the first quarter of 2013.

With its FiOS buildout almost complete, Verizon is looking at fewer video customers going forward, having added just 57,000 new customers in the first quarter compared to 169,000 new additions in the first quarter of 2013.

AT&T's U-verse, however, ended the first quarter of 2014 on an upbeat note. The company continues to acquire customers at a white lightning pace, having picked up 201,000 video subscribers during the quarter. With a larger footprint than FiOS, an aggressive buildout, and a video penetration at only 21 percent, AT&T has plenty of room to grow, IHS said.

IHS pay TV subscriber adds

Quarterly U.S. pay-TV subscriber additions. (Source: IHS)

For more:
- see this IHS release
- Broadband TV News has this story
- Advanced Television has this story
- Rapid TV News has this story

Earnings summary: Cable and IPTV in the first quarter of 2014

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