Good News for the Cable Guys! Subscriber Numbers Dropped Again.

Published on November 12, 2013
by Peter Kafka

larry_cable_guyThere’s not much need to debate cord-cutting anymore: The pay-TV industry is losing subscribers.

But we still don’t have a handle on theĀ rate of loss, nor the reason for that loss.

If you’re in the pay-TV business, you might find a silver lining in the industry’s most recent results, which show that it lost 113,000 subscribers in the last three months.

First the numbers, via analyst Craig Moffett:

MoffettNathanson Q3

It’s worth noting — since lots of people in the “kill cable” crowd tend to forget this — that even though cable providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable lost customers, many of them moved to satellite rivals (Dish, DirecTV) and telco rivals (AT&T, Verizon).

Still, the overall pay-TV business shrank last quarter, and its growth rate has been contracting for the last three quarters, which means the industry has had “its worst 12-months stretch ever,” Moffett points out.

So what’s the good news? It could have been worse, Moffett argues.

Citing U.S. Census data, he said the housing recovery stalled out in Q3, noting that there were 366,000 fewer new occupied housing units this quarter than there were a year ago. That is: Since pay-TV growth is usually tied to housing growth, you would would think that would mean pay-TV declines would be worse last quarter than they were a year ago. But they’re not.

And, yes, that qualifies as good news for pay-TV operators and programmers. Because, even though their subscriber numbers shrank a bit, pay-TV providers still saw their top line grow by five percent, driven by unending price increases. If they can keep pulling that trick off, they’re in fine shape.

Then again, if they can’t …

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