Cord Cutting’s Latest Toll: 1.34 Million Legacy Pay-TV Subscribers Gone

If you dumped a cable, satellite, or fiber pay-television subscription in the last quarter, you’ve got company—more than 1.3 million fellow cord cutters’ worth of it. 

Leichtman Research Group, a Durham, N.H., consultancy, published its Q3 2021 recap of pay-TV subscription trends at the largest services on Thursday, and the top-line figure of roughly 650,000 subscriber losses understates how badly traditional services got clocked in the quarter.

The top seven cable operators combined to lose 700,500 subscribers, a figure you may find easier to visualize as “almost the population of Denver.” The biggest among them, Comcast, reported that 407,000 video customers canceled service (a roughly Bakersfield, Calif.-sized figure) to leave it with 18.55 million video subs. Charter, second-largest, reported a loss of 121,000 (think Hartford, Conn.) and is now down to 15.89 million. 

Among services with a million-plus subs, LRG estimates that privately held Cox lost 70,000 subs and retains 3.46 million, while Altice (doing business as Optimum and Suddenlink) lost 67,500 subs to finish the quarter with 2.8 million.

Among “other traditional services,” DirecTV topped the list with a Tulsa, Okla.-esque total of 412,000 losses that LRG estimated left that privately held service with 15 million subs total. Cord cutting has left an especially deep gouge in that satellite operator; its subscribers peaked at 21 million in 2016, a year after AT&T bought it for $48.5 billion. The Dallas telecom giant unloaded DirecTV this year in a private-equity transaction that returned it $7.1 billion in cash

After that, Dish Network recorded 130,000 cancelations to leave it with 8.42 million subs and Verizon’s Fios fiber-optic TV service (which Verizon barely tries to sell to new internet customers) lost 68,000 subs and now stands at 3.71 million.

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LRG’s stats showed enough offsetting growth to account for that 650,000-loss total in live streaming-TV services, which happen to not handcuff customers to yearly contracts or sock them with un-advertised junk fees for certain channels or cable boxes. Hulu + Live TV gained 300,000 subscribers to reach 4 million total, Dish-owned Sling TV grew by 117,000 to hit 2.56 million, and sports-centric FuboTV reported drawing 262,884 new subscribers to reach 944,605 total. 

Beyond providing schadenfreude for people (like your scribe here) who cut the cord back when cable-TV executives called cord cutting a phase for the “economically challenged”, LRG’s study also leaves one question as an exercise for the reader: How much longer can cable operators with far more broadband than TV subscribers keep tying the price of internet connectivity to that of TV services that increasingly fewer people want?

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