Pay-TV providers lost almost 4.7 million net video subscribers in 2021, according to a new report by Leichtman Research Group.
The company surveys companies representing about 93% of the total market. It found that overall losses last year moderated slightly compared with 2020, when about 4.9 million people cut the cord. Both figures were notably higher than the 4.1 million drops in 2019, however, indicating the pay-TV bundle is continuing to unravel at a significant pace.
Total subscriber levels are now at 76.1 million. The top seven cable companies have 41.3 million of those, with other services (including satellite operators DirecTV and Dish) accounting for 26.8 million. The remaining 7.9 million subscribers have an internet-delivered package like Hulu + Live TV. Those virtual MVPDs added about 895,000 subscribers in 2021, down from a gain of 915,000 in the prior year.
Two significant distributors in the internet bundle game — YouTube TV and Philo — are not captured by Leichtman Research Group’s report, as they report subscriber numbers only occasionally. YouTube parent Alphabet reported the service had 3 million subscribers in 2020, and many Wall Street analysts have indicated they believe it is now north of 4 million. Philo is closing in on 1 million.
Losses on the cable side accelerated in 2021. They dropped about 2.7 million subscribers, compared with a loss of 1.9 million in 2020.
Direct-to-consumer streaming services represent the new hope for stakeholders in the traditional bundle, particularly on the programming side. Broadband service has also represented a meaningful new revenue stream for cable operators, especially with Covid giving a massive boost to home connectivity demand. Comcast, the No. 1 U.S. cable company, lost almost 1.7 million subscribers in 2021, to finish the year with 18.2 million. Yet it has also now penetrated 50% of the country with its broadband service and has built businesses like its Flex video bundle on top of that footprint.
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