Report: Multichannel Subscriptions Fall Slightly in Q1, But Get Virtual Lift

Combined cable, direct broadcast satellite (DBS) and telecom multichannel subscriptions fell 0.8% sequentially in the first quarter ended March 31, to 93.2 million, including 90.3 million residential customers.

That’s according to the Q1 2018 U.S. Multichannel Subscriber Report by Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence.

However, noteworthy gains for virtual platforms DirecTV NOW and Sling TV cut the quarterly subscription losses in half, raising the overall residential figure to 94.1 million.

Other findings:

  • The residential multichannel penetration rate stood at 76.1% as of March 31 when including the virtual smartphone platforms owned by AT&T and DISH Network (DirecTV NOW and Sling TV).
  • Cable operators logged their largest first-quarter video subscriber decline on record, with the top two multiple system operators, Comcast and Charter, accounting for 59% of the drop.
  • Telco video appears to be regaining its footing as AT&T’s U-verse stabilizes. The platform’s video customer losses fell below 100,000 for the first time since the third quarter of 2015.
  • DBS losses ramped back up in the first quarter, bringing the sector’s total down to 31.1 million.For more information, visit www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence.

Comcast Loses 96,000 Cable Subs in Q1

Comcast Cable April 25 said it lost 96,000 video subscribers in the fiscal first quarter (ended March 31), compared to adding 42,000 subs in the previous-year period. The cabler ended the period with 22.2 million video subs – down 288,000 subs from 22.5 million last year.

The decline underscores ongoing secular declines in pay-TV to alternative distribution channels as witnessed by Comcast shedding 151,000 video subs in 2017. The cabler gained 161,000 subs in 2016.

Meanwhile, Comcast added 379,000 high-speed Internet subscribers, which was down from 429,000 additions last year. The cabler ended the period with 26.2 million broadband subs compared to 25.1 million subs during the previous-year period.

Indeed, Comcast added more than 1.1 million high-speed Internet subscribers over the past year.

“Our steady increase in customer relationships continued, balanced with solid growth in [pre-tax earnings], reflecting momentum in our high-speed Internet and business services segments,” CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement.

 

Comcast, Netflix Expand Partnership

Comcast and Netflix April 13 announced an expansion of their partnership that gives the cabler the ability to include a Netflix subscription in new and existing Xfinity packages.

In 2016, after years of resistance, Comcast offered Xfinity subs direct-access to Netflix. The SVOP behemoth has quickly become one of the most popular voice searches and highly-viewed services on the platform; and among households watching Netflix on X1, X1 has quickly become the most used platform for Netflix viewing.

“Netflix offers one of the most popular on demand services and is an important supplement to the content offering and value proposition of the X1 platform,” Sam Schwartz, chief business development officer, Comcast Cable, said in a statement.

Xfinity subs can search Netflix with the X1 voice remote, browse by TV series, movie, network, or actor on Xfinity On Demand, in addition to browsing recommendations across broadcast and cable. For example, X1 subs can watch the NBA Playoffs live, catch up on “Stranger Things,” set their DVR to record the newest season of “The Walking Dead.”

“Our partnership with Comcast on Xfinity X1 has brought easy access to Netflix for our mutual customers,” said Bill Holmes, global head of business development for Netflix. “By speaking into or browsing with the X1 remote, millions of customers have found the perfect thing to watch on Netflix.”

Comcast will launch a variety of initial offers this month that include a Netflix subscription. Offers and availability will vary by market and be open to new and existing customers. Netflix-related billing will be handled directly by Comcast.

Comcast Gets Direct Access to Acorn TV

Acorn TV, the subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service specializing in British-centric programming, is now available on Comcast Cable.

The launch of the SVOD service marks the first time Acorn TV, owned by RLJ Entertainment, is available on a pay-TV set-top box.

Acorn TV is accessible on Xfinity on Demand and on the go via the Xfinity Stream App and portal. Subscribers with an X1 voice remote can say “Acorn TV” to begin watching or use their remote to navigate programing within the Xfinity on Demand menu. Xfinity TV subs can add Acorn TV for $4.99 per month.

The service joins Netflix, YouTube, Pandora and NPR podcasts with direct access to Comcast subscribers.

“We continue to make more and more of the content our customers [want] available to them all in one place and easily accessible by voice through X1,” Michael Imbesi, VP, movies & PPV programming, Comcast Cable, said in a statement.

Acorn TV is as old as Netflix, relaunching as a standalone over-the-top video service in 2013. It ended 2017 with more than 500,000 subscribers.

Original programs include BBC comedy “Detectorists,” new ITV drama “Girlfriends,” and the return of Irish drama, “Striking Out.” Other programs feature new seasons of Aussie period drama, “A Place to Call Home,” British drama “Delicious,” Aussie medical dramedy, “The Heart Guy,” dramedy “800 Words,” as well as long-running mysteries, “Midsomer Murders,” “Jack Irish,” starring Guy Pearce, “Murdoch Mysteries,” and “The Brokenwood Mysteries.”

“Acorn TV is excited to continue to expand our distribution through a partnership with Comcast,” said Mike Pears, president of U.S. distribution for RLJ Entertainment — which is majority owned by AMC Networks.

Comcast Begins Streaming SlingTV International on X1 Set-Top Devices

As expected, Comcast has begun offering Xfinity subscribers direct access to Sling TV’s multicultural programing.

First announced last November, the agreement between the nation’s largest cable operator and satellite operator Dish Network (which owns Sling TV) underscores Comcast’s expansion beyond its walled pay-TV ecosystem. The cabler currently offers direct-access to Netflix, Pandora, YouTube and NPR podcasts.

“And today, we’re excited to add another choice to the platform with the launch of the Sling International app on X1,” Rebecca Simpson, executive director international strategy and programing at Comcast Cable, wrote in an April 5 blog post.

Sling International offers multicultural content from different countries in 21 languages starting at $10 per month.

Available languages include Arabic, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, English, Marathi, Kannada, Punjabi, Urdu, Bangla, Bengali, Brazilian, French, Italian, German, Polish, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Taiwanese and Mandarin.

Existing Sling TV customers will be able to log in and access any of the international live or on-demand programming that’s part of their current package.  New customers will be able to sign up directly through the Sling International app on X1 at www.sling.com/international.