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

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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.

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

Operators Video subscribers (mil.) Net additions (thousands)
1. Comcast 19.22 (253)
2. AT&T* 17.78 (627)
3. Charter 15.7 53
4. Dish Network* 11.42 116
5. Verizon 3.93 (61)
6. Altice USA 3.06 (86)

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

A ‘less bad’ quarter

After losing nearly 1.5 million subscribers combined in the second quarter, the top six publicly traded pay TV operators lost approximately 858,000 this quarter. Still bad but significantly better sequentially; or, as industry analyst Craig Moffett put it this week during a keynote address at the Stream TV Show, “less bad.”

“The third quarter, from an operator’s perspective, is clearly going to be less bad in that the rate of decline has decelerated,” said Moffett, adding that the rate of decline looks to have decelerated to around 7.4%, marking a rare positive inflection point on a chart that’s been steadily trending downward for years.

Still, MoffettNathanson expects subscriber losses will pick up again as larger cable operators increasingly become indifferent toward losing video subscribers.

“Because cable operators are increasingly indifferent between keeping and losing subscribers, you can expect to see an acceleration in cord cutting,” he said. “Those marginal subscribers who were kept with these enormously lucrative packages, are simply not going to be part of the landscape anymore.”

A new challenger approaches

T-Mobile has jumped into an already crowded field of MVPDs and virtual MVPDs in hopes of disrupting the U.S. pay TV industry. It’s early for the operator – the revamped TVision service is still only available for its postpaid wireless subscribers – but competitors have taken notice.

“T-Mobile is a competitor of ours, obviously, and their video service is aggressive and competitive,” said Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen, noting that T-Mobile is going after customers in rural markets. “So, we'll have to be on top of our game to compete there.”

TVision is currently one of the lowest priced options for live TV though its TVision Vibe package has already run afoul of programmers. Still, Philo CEO Andrew McCollum admired T-Mobile’s decision to offer separate packages for news and sports and entertainment channels.

“Maybe the approach they took wasn't calculated exactly right but in spirit I think the concept makes sense,” McCollum said.