The coronavirus pandemic has caused dramatic economic upheaval and virtual MVPDs, like almost every other business category, are facing new market realities.
YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV seemed to be riding strong momentum at the end of the fourth quarter but ran into some headwinds near the end of the first quarter when the COVID-19 crisis forced all professional leagues to halt play, resulting in no live sports, the marquee content for most linear TV services.
With the first-quarter financial reporting season largely concluded, a new picture has emerged about how the major vMVPDs stack up and what the future looks like for those services. MoffettNathanson issued some estimates for the vMVPDs that didn't report subscriber totals for the previous quarter.
Q1 2020 subscriber total: 3.3 million
Q4 2019 subscriber total: 3.2 million
Hulu + Live TV is still growing, which is more than many of its competitors can say, but the rate of growth is slowing. When the service hit 3.2 million subscribers at the end of 2019, it was up 88% year over year. After the most recent quarter, the service reached 3.3 million, up 65% year over year. While the subscriber growth came in at a more modest figure, Hulu + Live TV’s ARPU took off, rising 29% year over year to reach $67.75. Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said the increase, which shakes out to roughly $15 per subscriber, was due to a price increase that took effect in the first quarter.
Q1 2020 subscriber total: 2.31 million
Q4 2019 subscriber total: 2.59 million
Dish Network’s Sling TV followed a rare loss in the fourth quarter with an even bigger loss in the first quarter, when it dropped a net 281,000 Sling TV subscribers. The company said the decrease was primarily related to lower Sling TV subscriber activations, increased competition – including competition from other subscription video on-demand and live-linear OTT service providers – and delays and cancelations of sporting events as a result of COVID-19.
Q1 2020 subscriber total: 2.3 million
Q4 2019 subscriber total: 2 million
YouTube TV, more so than some of its competitors, positions itself as a service for live sports. With the cancelation or postponement of almost all live sports during the pandemic, it’s possible that YouTube TV felt some combination of slower growth and elevated churn during the first quarter – and maybe some effect from a drop off in marketing. Google provided a rare subscriber total update for the service for the fourth quarter but that didn’t happen again when the company reported first-quarter earnings. However, MoffettNathanson estimated the service added 300,000 new subscribers in the first quarter.
Q1 2020 subscriber total: 788,000
Q4 2019 subscriber total: 918,000
AT&T TV Now continued to steady slide, losing another 138,000 and dropping down to 788,000 total subscribers. MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett said it was the sixth straight quarter of subscriber losses for the service and that AT&T TV Now has shrunk by two thirds over the past year and half. It’s likely this trend will continue since AT&T is putting all its linear TV product eggs in the AT&T TV basket.
Q4 2019 subscriber total: 315,789
Now that fuboTV has merged with FaceBank and gone public, CEO David Gandler is sending letters to shareholders, complete with subscriber updates. He said his company has grown its subscriber base significantly over the past several years and that it ended 2019 with 315,789 paid subscribers, up 37% year over year. If fuboTV continues to grow and AT&T TV Now continues to shrink at its current rate, it won’t be long before there’s a new vMVPD at the bottom of the list.
This article has been updated to include YouTube TV subscriber growth estimates from MoffettNathanson.