COVID-19 Driving Cord-Cutting — at Online TV

When Dish Network launched Sling TV in 2015, it represented pay-TV’s answer to the pricey cable bundle and Netflix. Competitors such as Sony PlayStation Vue, Hulu with Live TV, DirecTV Now quickly joined the party. But the industry shine seems to be fading.

Speculation U.S. consumers quarantined in their homes would temporarily stem pay-TV cord cutting was dispelled with the industry’s largest first-quarter decline for traditional multichannel subscriptions. At two million, it was the largest quarterly drop to date.

New data from media research group Kagan estimates it was also the first quarterly decline for virtual multichannel alternatives. The broadband-delivered services collectively lost 261,000 subs or 2.8% to finish the quarter with 9.2 million subs.

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Gains from Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV were erased by the declines from Sling TV and AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) as well as Sony’s decision to shutter PlayStation Vue in January.

By comparison, subscriptions to traditional cable, direct broadcast satellite and telecommunications video services dropped 2.4% in the quarter.

As a result, Kagan updated its forecast for video market share in the U.S. due to mounting unemployment and the COVID-19 economic downturn. The revised projections suggest broadband-only households to surpass combined traditional and virtual multichannel subscribers. Indeed, online TV services have narrowed their cord cutter appeal and are expected to account for less than 10% of occupied households and reach nearly 11 million by the end of the year.

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Meanwhile, broadband homes are increasingly satisfying home entertainment needs through a combination of free and subscription-based streaming services, including adding 24.7 million subs by the end of 2020, accounting for more than 19% of occupied households.

“Home isolation should have stemmed multichannel defections, but the cruel irony of the interruption in programming and ensuing economic turmoil is expected to blunt the benefits,” Kagan wrote in a note. “We forecast an 11% drop in traditional multichannel subscriptions in 2020, and penetrations of less than 56% at the end of the year.”

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