U.S. pay TV industry lost 1.3M subscribers in Q4: UBS

cord cutting
Moody’s is expecting the accelerated pace of U.S. video subscriber losses will continue in 2021. (Alyssa & Colin/Flickr)

All major U.S. pay TV distributors have reported quarterly results and UBS estimates total industry video subscriber losses totaled 1.3 million in the fourth quarter.

The analyst firm said the total equals a 5.1% rate of annual decline, compared to 4.6% in third quarter and 4.8% in the fourth quarter of 2019. Excluding virtual MVPDs like YouTube TV and Sling TV, the firm estimated traditional TV subscribers fell 7.9%, which is in line with the previous quarter.

“We expect trends will continue to soften in 2021 as price increases and industry pivot away from linear TV drives higher churn as pandemic-related tailwinds fade,” wrote UBS analyst John Hodulik in a research note.

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By UBS’s count, U.S. satellite providers again led the way in TV subscriber losses with 822,000 between DirecTV and Dish Network. AT&T lost 673,000 DirecTV subscribers in the fourth quarter, according to UBS, but offset the decline somewhat by adding 78,000 AT&T TV subscribers.

The firm calculated U.S. cable providers’ total subscriber losses at 563,000 for the fourth quarter. Comcast accounted for the most with 248,000.

U.S. vMVPDs, after an outstanding third quarter with more than 1.2 million new subscribers added, came back down to earth in the fourth quarter. Hulu + Live TV swung to a loss of 100,000 after adding 700,000 in the previous quarter. According to UBS, YouTube TV added 100,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, slightly down from the 150,000 additions in the previous quarter. All told, vMVPDs only came up with 189,000 subscriber additions.

Moody’s is expecting the accelerated pace of U.S. video subscriber losses will continue in 2021.

“The pace of loss temporarily moderated during the last several quarters with high interest in news related to the virus and the U.S. presidential election, and a search for entertainment programming given cinema closures and limitations on travel and other leisure activities,” the firm wrote in a recent research report. “Step up in loss rate is likely to return to pre-pandemic levels or worse as the economy recovers in 2021 with the unrelenting secular decline in the business.”