The market for live streaming TV services has shaken up significantly in the past year, resulting in a changing of the guard to close out the fourth quarter.
Not too long ago, AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) and Sling TV were considered the two leaders in the virtual MVPD space. Evidence at the time suggested that YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV were catching up, but without clear subscriber data, analysts were left to venture best guesses and estimates about where they stood.
After the most recent quarter, though, the hierarchy has dramatically shifted. Here’s how the top virtual MVPDs rank in order of subscriber totals after Q4, based on reported totals and estimates from MoffettNathanson.
Q4 2019 subscriber total: 3.2 million
Q4 2018 subscriber total: 1.7 million
Disney last year assumed full control of Hulu and positioned the streaming service as one of the key pillars (alongside Disney+ and ESPN+) of its direct-to-consumer strategy. That management consolidation may have led to further transparency for Hulu, which broke out figures for its live streaming TV service. Hulu + Live TV grew 88% year over year to 3.2 million subscribers, but the figure could be higher since Disney said Hulu added another 300,000 overall subscribers by the time Disney’s Q4 earnings call happened. Regardless of where Hulu’s subscriber total falls currently it’s enough to push the service to the top of the vMVPD mountain.
Q4 2019 subscriber total: 2.59 million
Q4 2018 subscriber total: 2.42 million
Sling TV has largely held steady throughout 2019 even after posting a rare net subscriber loss of 94,000 to end the year. The vMVPD pioneer blamed increasing competition and disputes with AT&T, Sinclair and Univision that have lead Sling TV to lose access to important channels like the Fox regional sports networks. Dish still added a net 175,000 Sling TV subscribers in 2019, but it’s significantly fewer than 205,000 one year ago and worlds away from the 711,000 subscribers it added in in 2017.
Q4 2019 subscriber total: 2 million
Q4 2018 subscriber total: 1 million
If Hulu + Live TV has benefitted from being bundled with Disney+, YouTube TV has likely benefitted from bundling with Verizon Fios, Google Fiber, Cincinnati Bell and others. The service also stepped up to fill the vMVPD app gap on PlayStation 4 before PlayStation Vue called it quits. According to MoffettNathanson, YouTube TV has been adding an average 250,000 new subscribers each quarter. If the service continues to expand at this pace and Sling TV strings together more quarters of slow growth (or losses), YouTube TV will move into second place.
Q4 2019 subscriber total: 918,000
Q4 2918 subscriber total: 1.53 million
As Craig Moffett pointed out, AT&T TV Now “burst out of the gate” early on with discounted offers and promotions. However, many of the promo pricing subscribers that AT&T TV Now counted initially didn’t stick around after the prices went up, and it caused the service’s subscriber totals to quickly sink. With AT&T TV and HBO Max the new darlings of AT&T’s video strategy, it’s possible that AT&T TV Now will gradually fade away to the point where fuboTV, Philo or Vidgo becomes the new fourth place vMVPD on the list.