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Annual Video Subscriber Totals Fall for the First Time Ever

Paul Ausick

By the end of 2013, the 13 largest pay TV providers had lost 105,000 video subscribers for the year. That marks the first year that pay TV posted an annual loss according to media analytics firm Leichtman Research Group Inc. (LRG). Total subscribers for cable, satellite, and broadband systems numbered 94.6 million.

The LRG research notes that the top nine cable TV companies lost 1.735 million subscribers in 2013 compared to 1.41 million losses in 2012. These nine companies include Comcast Corp. (CMCSA), Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWX), Charter Communications Inc. (CHTR), and Cablevision Corp. (CVC). At the end of 2013 Comcast had 21.7 million subscribers, Time Warner had 11.4 million, Charter claimed 4.3 million, and Cablevision had 2.8 million. The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner will create a behemoth with more than 34 million subscribers.

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In 2013, Comcast lost 305,000 subscribers, Time Warner lost a whopping 825,000, Charter lost 121,000, and Cablevision lost 80,000. None of the nine largest cable operators gained subscribers over the 12 months.

Where are these cable viewers going? To AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), where the companies added a combined 1.46 million subscribers in 2013 and to the satellite providers DirecTV (DTV) and Dish Network Corp. (DISH) which combined to add 170,000 subscribers over the year.

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AT&T had 5.46 million subscribers to its U-verse broadband offering at the end of 2013 and Verizon had 5.26 million subscribers to its FiOS broadband product. DirecTV claimed 20.3 million subscribers at the end of 2013 and and Dish Network claimed 14.1 million.

According to LRG, cable providers now claim 52% of the pay TV market compared with 58% just three years ago. Comcast and Time Warner don’t fear any of their cable competitors, but the growth of broadband subscriptions does threaten what’s left of their monopoly markets. Getting bigger is their solution. We’ll have to see how that works out -- if it works out.

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