Study: U.S. Posted First Full-Year Pay TV Subscriber Drop in 2013

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Cable, satellite TV and telecom firms collectively shed 251,000 video subscribers in 2013, led by continued cable losses, the research firm estimates.

The U.S. pay TV industry in 2013 recorded its first-ever full-year subscriber decline, SNL Kagan said Tuesday in confirming what industry watchers had previously predicted.

Cable TV, satellite TV and telecom firms offering video services collectively shed 251,000 subscribers in 2013, led by continued cable losses, the research firm estimated.

The industry added 40,000 video subscriptions in the fourth quarter, helped by a return to video sub growth at cable giant Comcast, but it wasn't enough to make up for losses earlier in the year.

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The decline comes as some cable operators' improving pay TV subscriber momentum has effected the continuing cord cutting debate.


As of the end of the year, the number of pay TV subscribers dipped to approximately 100 million, according to SNL Kagan.


"The fourth-quarter subscription bump did not carry enough magnitude to lift the penetration rates sequentially," the firm said. "Housing formation was modest but still outpaced new subscriptions. The SNL Kagan approach that combines the U.S. Census Bureau categories of temporarily occupied and occasional use housing units produces a sequential net gain of 197,000 occupied units to nearly 115 million at year-end."


Losses from cable operators again fueled the overall drop. SNL Kagan estimates cable operators lost nearly 2 million video subscribers in 2013 and 388,000 in the fourth quarter to end the year with fewer than 54.4 million basic video subscribers.


Satellite TV giant DirecTV and Dish Network "controlled churn and produced net subscriber gains for the year, forestalling an annual decline for perhaps another year," the research firm said. They gained 101,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, bringing their full-year gain to 170,000, with nearly all of that coming from DirecTV. The sector ended 2013 with 34.3 million total subscribers.


In the telecom sector, Verizon's FiOS and AT&T's U-verse pay TV services reached 10.7 million video subscribers at the end of the year thanks to another year of gains.


Twitter: @georgszalai