Parks: U.S. Pay-TV Industry Lost More Than 18 Million Subscribers From 2014 to 2020

The U.S. pay-TV and high-speed internet markets keep going in opposite directions.

Cable keeps losing viewers, while the streaming business continues to see gains.

New data from Parks Associates estimates that from 2014 to 2020, domestic pay-TV providers lost more than 18 million subscribers, while the broadband market exploded, with 40% of broadband households receiving a standalone service. In 2020, more than 7 million households dropped their pay-TV services. Traditional pay TV — television services delivered over an operator-controlled network to an operator-controlled device — declined by an estimated 10 million subs.

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“Online pay-TV service from virtual MVPDs, players that target the general population instead of offering services to a specific geographic footprint, grew by an estimated three million,” senior analyst Kristen Hanich said in a statement. “[Online TV] overall [has] grown to represent an increasingly large percentage of the pay-TV market — accounting for 16% of subs in 2020.”

In the domestic market, online TV represented the only segment of the pay-TV space to experience growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dallas-based Parks estimates that by the year 2024, the traditional pay-TV sub base will decline to just 53 million households — while online TV will increase to more than 23 million.

Internet service providers and others operating in the pay-TV space are thus seeking alternatives to traditional pay-TV in their consumer services arsenal. Cable operators have had some success in encouraging new bundling by launching Wi-Fi-first mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) services, primarily running on Verizon’s network. In the research company’s Q1 2021 survey, 4% of broadband households reported subscribing to Comcast Xfinity Mobile, Spectrum Mobile or Altice Mobile — making them some of the largest players in the MVNO space.

“U.S. ISPs collectively have over 110 million residential and small business internet subscriptions as of Q1 2021,” Hanich said. “The standalone broadband market will continue to grow, increasing pressure on these service providers to find the next combination of services that best leverages this massive subscriber base.”

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