Tuesday, March 15, 2011

U.S. cable subscribers continue to decline

SNL Kagan has released its Q4 2010 report on U.S. video service subscribers. The number of cable subscribers declined by 526,000 for the quarter, the third quarter in a row that cable's subscriber count has declined. Satellite operators added 133,000 subscribers, and IPTV service providers (primarily Verizon and AT&T) added 458,000 subscribers. Overall, the net number of multichannel video subscribers (cable, satellite and IPTV together) increased by 65,000.

The numbers don't add much evidence one way or the other for "cord-cutting", but they clearly suggest that the cable industry's subscriber losses are becoming a long-term trend. However, cable's competitors aren't doing themselves any favors. In particular, AT&T raised its rates considerably this year, and two days ago, the company announced that it will begin capping its DSL bandwidth starting May 2nd. Conventional DSL customers will be capped at 150GB, and U-Verse customers will be limited to 250GB. (The limits will not be imposed until a customer has exceeded their limits three times during the life of their AT&T account.)

The primary reason for customers to shift from cable operators to satellite and IPTV (as well as the primary motivator for cord-cutting) is saving money. If cable competitors raise rates and put limits on their services, they'll end up giving cable subscribers a reason not to switch. SNL Kagan reports that cable operators have almost 60% of the market, so it's their market to lose.
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