Cable TV Providers Hit by Continued Subscriber Erosion

Macall B. Polay/HBO
"Boardwalk Empire"

An SNL Kagan report from second quarter 2013 shows viewers continue to cut the cord -- which may have added to the pressure on Time Warner Cable to settle with CBS.

If Time Warner Cable was bleeding subscribers during the monthlong CBS blackout -- which we won’t know for sure until November -- it apparently was part of the larger ongoing outflow of customers that all cable and satellite services are suffering.

SNL Kagan put out a report Tuesday that indicates even before the CBS blackout, during the second quarter of 2013, cable distributors saw the loss of subscribers double from the prior quarter. They estimate the entire cable industry lost 607,000 subscribers in that three-month period.

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Cable’s share of the customers in U.S. TV homes who take some sort of pay service is now down to 55.3 percent. In 2006, it was 65.4 percent. The number of basic cable subscribers dropped by 1.8 million in the trailing 12 months.

Analysts say that put added pressure on TWC to settle with CBS after a monthlong blackout. Their new deal was announced Sunday.

DBS services -- those delivered by satellite -- dropped by 162,000 in the second quarter, according to SNL Kagan: “While it was the single-largest quarterly decline, the DBS segment is still slightly ahead of its year mark with a small increase over the trailing 12 months.”

If you wonder where those who didn’t cut the cord altogether went, many chose to phone home.

The only winner in paid content distribution was the Telco market -- mainly Verizon Fios and AT&T’s Uverse -- which picked up more than 400,000 customers in the second quarter. That was significantly more than in the same period a year earlier. As of mid-2013, the Telcos now serve about 10.7 million video customers, still only a fraction of what cable serves.

In total about 103 million of the 114 U.S. TV homes have some sort of paid cable, satellite, Telco or other service, according to industry data.

The good news for cable companies is that over the same period, the same multiple system operators saw an increase in broadband-only customers, even as the number of video subscribers continued to drop. According to MarketCharts, the major cable providers lost 344,318 subscribers during the second quarter, while the top broadband providers (many of them cable companies) added 294,304 subscriptions.