Online TV Growth Slows Despite Record Q3 Pay-TV Subscriber Exodus

The most-recent fiscal quarter (ended Sept. 30) was not a good one for pay-TV operators, which continue to see increasing numbers of subscribers exit for video alternatives online.

Or not.

It was also a wake-up call to multi-video program distributors who think online TV is the answer to fickle pay-TV consumers.

 The cable, satellite and telecom operators lost a combined 1.2 million video subs, ending the quarter at 91 million, including 88.2 million residential customers, according to new data from Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Meanwhile, while many pay-TV subs are becoming cord-cutters, they’re not all migrating to online TV platforms such as Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV and PlayStation Vue.

Kagan found that online TV services gained an estimated 2.1 million subs in the past nine months – not enough to offset a decline of 2.8 million pay-TV subs.

Indeed,Dish Network-owned Sling TV and DirecTV Now added just 75,000 subs in 3Q, compared to about 530,000 additions in the previous-year period. The additions were the lowest since the market’s launch in 2015.

Satellite had its worst quarter on record with a loss of 726,000 subs, according to Leichtman Research Group. Cable lost nearly 1.1 million subs – the worst performance since 2014.Telco subs fell by 94,000, led by Verizon, which jettisoned 63,000 subs.

Telephone providers lost about 80,000 video subs compared to a loss of 180,000 subs last year. Pay-TV services (excluding online TV) lost 1.05 million subs compared to a loss of about 940,000 subs in 2017.

“This marked the most net losses ever in a quarter for the pay-TV industry,” Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, said in a statement. “Satellite TV had more combined net losses in than in any previous quarter.  These net losses were largely driven by corporate strategies focused on acquiring and retaining more profitable subscribers.”

Leichtman attributed some of the online TV sub growth slowdown to corporate parents’ emphasis on improving the profitability of the Internet-delivered flanker brands.

“[This] reduced net quarterly adds in the segment, resulting in [online TV] not helping to mitigate overall pay-TV losses to the degree they had in recent quarters,” he said.

Pay-TV Providers Subscribers at end of 3Q 2018 Net Adds in 3Q 2018
Cable Companies
Comcast 22,015,000 (106,000)
Charter 16,628,000 (54,000)
Cox* 4,035,000 (30,000)
Altice 3,322,800 (28,100)
Mediacom 793,000 (15,000)
Cable ONE 328,921 (11,191)
Total Top Cable 47,122,721 (244,291)
Satellite Services (DBS)
DIRECTV 19,625,000 (359,000)
DISH TV 10,286,000 (367,000)
Total DBS 29,911,000 (726,000)
Phone Companies
Verizon FiOS 4,497,000 (63,000)
AT&T U-verse 3,693,000 13,000
Frontier 873,000 (29,000)
Total Top Phone 9,063,000 (79,000)
Internet-Delivered (vMVPD)
Sling TV^ 2,370,000 26,000
DIRECTV NOW 1,858,000 49,000
Total Top vMVPD^ 4,228,000 75,000
Total Top Providers 90,324,721 (974,291)

 

 

Parks: OTT Video Adoption Growing Among Pay-TV Cord Cutters

With Comcast and Verizon this week reporting ongoing declines in traditional pay-TV subscribers, new data from Parks Associates shows that consumer perception of a poor value proposition in pay-TV remains the top trigger for changing, downgrading, or cancelling services.

Among households that have made pay-TV changes in past 12 months, one-third of cord cutters (33%) and 10% of switchers or cord shavers plan to use paid OTT services as a substitute or alternative for pay-TV.

In addition to subscription streaming VOD services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, online TV services include Sling TV, Playstation Vue, DirecTV Now, Pluto TV, Fubo TV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and Spectrum TV Plus, among others.

“The primary driver for pay-TV cancellation and downgrades continues to revolve around pricing and perceived value,” Brett Sappington, senior director, research, said in a statement. “While some consumers consciously plan to use OTT video services to address the absence of pay-TV content, most consider each offering on its own merits.”

Sappington said the “deeper issue” is in the influence OTT video is having on what consumers consider to be a good value. When video services with good quality are available for under $15, it forces operators to justify an $80 pay-TV bill.

Indeed, consumer Katie O’Shea from Travelers Rest, SC, said she plans to switch to $35 DirecTV Now as soon as she can get out of her $200 DirecTV contract – the latter including broadband service.

“I have 400 channels, most of which I don’t watch or even know what they are,” said O’Shea.

 

Online TV Services Added 868,000 Subs in Q2

Online TV services such as Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Philo TV and PlayStation Vue added a combined 868,000 subscribers in the second quarter, bringing the total number of virtual MVPD subs to 6.73 million, up 119% year-over-year, according to new data from Strategy Analytics.

Despite this, overall pay TV subs (cable, satellite, telecom and online TV) fell to 93.78 million, breaking a string of two consecutive quarters of growth, according to the report that examines the subscriber bases of 27 public traded and private pay TV operators, accounting for 97% of all pay TV subscriptions.

“While the entire [online TV] segment is growing, AT&T’s DirecTV Now deserves special notice given how rapidly it has grown in a fairly short period of time,” Michael Goodman, director, television and media strategies, said in a statement. “If it continues on its current growth trajectory it will overtake Sling TV as the largest vMVPD in early 2019.”

In comparison, 2Q was not particularly kind to legacy pay TV providers as they lost nearly as many subscribers (973,000) as the prior two quarters combined (-1.16 million). In the quarter, total legacy pay TV subscriptions fell to 87.05 million, down 3.6% from the previous-year period.

“Historically, pay TV in the U.S. has consisted of cable, satellite, and IPTV; however, the introduction of over-the-top pay TV services, commonly referred to as vMVPDs, necessitates a change in our thinking,” said Goodman. “What we have commonly referred to as pay TV (cable, satellite, and IPTV) should now be referred to as Legacy Pay TV, while the definition of Pay TV should include vMVPDs.”

Sling TV Subscriber Growth Slowing

Dish Network Aug.3 reported that its pioneering online TV service, Sling TV, ended the second quarter (ended June 30) with 2.344 million subscribers – marginally more than the 2.3 million subs reported at the end of Q1.

The satellite TV operator launched Sling TV in 2015 as the first standalone online TV service, and first platform offering access to premium TV channels outside of the traditional linear bundle, including ESPN.

The market now includes Sony PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Philo TV, Spectrum TV Plus, Hulu Live TV, Fubo TV and AT&T’s WatchTV.

Dish said it added 41,000 Sling TV subs in the Q2, down from about 91,000 sub additions in Q1. The company closed Q2 with 10.653 million Dish TV subs. When combined with Sling TV, Dish ended the period with 12.997 million total pay-TV subs compared to 13.332 million pay-TV subs in the previous-year period.

Indeed, Dish lost 335,000 net subscribers in the period compared to 196,000 subs in the last year’s period. Lone improvement: annual monthly churn rate dropped to 1.46% versus 1.83% for second quarter 2017.

 

Research: Customers More Satisfied With Video Streaming Than With TV Subscription Services

Customer satisfaction with video streaming services far eclipses that of subscription TV service, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) 2018 Telecommunications Report.

Video streaming services debuted in this year’s telecom report with an ACSI score of 75, well above subscription TV’s score of 62, which declined 3.1% from last year.

“Video streaming services significantly outperformed subscription TV,” said David VanAmburg, managing director at the ACSI, in a statement. “Streaming services don’t have the hidden fees and six-month rates that subscription TV does, not to mention they’re cheaper and simpler. But because consumers don’t have many options when choosing a subscription TV provider, those businesses don’t see a lot of risk in customer dissatisfaction, and we’re unlikely to see dramatic changes any time soon.”

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) measures and analyzes customer satisfaction with more than 380 companies in 46 industries and 10 economic sectors. Reported on a scale of 0 to 100, ACSI scores are based on data from interviews with roughly 250,000 customers annually. The ACSI Telecommunications Report 2018 includes data on subscription TV services, video streaming, video-on-demand, internet service providers, fixed-line and wireless telephone services, and cell phone manufacturers. It’s based on 45,292 customer surveys collected between April 19, 2017 and March 17, 2018. The full report is available for download here.

With an ACSI score of 75, video streaming services were the highest-performing telecom industry measured in the 2018 study. Netflix, Sony PlayStation Vue, and Twitch all led the pack, tying at a score of 78. Apple iTunes and the Microsoft Store took second place at 77, with YouTube Red in third at 76.

Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Hulu, and Vudu all registered at the industry average of 75, followed by the network channel subscriptions: CBS All Access at 74, and HBO Now and Starz at 72.

Bringing up the rear were Sling TV (71), DIRECTV NOW (70), Showtime Anytime (70), and Sony Crackle (68).

Still, even Sony Crackle in last place rated higher than nearly all subscription TV services.

Video streaming services received high marks for ease of understanding the bill (80), website satisfaction (80), and call centers (75), but customers downgraded them on availability of the current season’s TV shows (71) and availability of new movie titles (69).

Customer satisfaction with subscription TV fell to 62, an 11-year low for the industry.

AT&T’s U-verse TV topped the list with a 70, one of only two scores that stayed the same instead of dropping. Verizon Fios fell 4% year over year to a 68 for second place, while DISH Network held steady at 67 for third.

In the middle of the pack, DIRECTV and Optimum both fell 6% to 64 and 62, respectively. Cox Communications shed 2% to 60, while Spectrum and Suddenlink both plunged 8% to 58.

Comcast Xfinity decreased 27% to 57, Frontier Communications dropped 7% to 56, and Mediacom placed last with a 55, down 2%.

The top-rated part of the subscription TV experience was HD picture quality, which holds steady at a score of 80. Picture quality was close behind, down 1% to 78.

While courtesy and helpfulness of store and service center staff had a relatively good score of 77, and speed of store and service center transactions received a 76, call center satisfaction continued to be the weak spot of the industry, slipping 3% to 63.

“If you look at retail, airlines, and many other industries, companies like to reward customer loyalty, offering perks or discounts for doing business with them,” said VanAmburg in a statement. “Telecom is the exact opposite. In many ways, loyalty is punished because subscription TV is focused on customer acquisition and offering the best deal to lure customers away from competitors. In the long run, that doesn’t leave customers very satisfied.”

Among video-on-demand services, AT&T’s U-verse TV took the top spot with a 74, followed by DISH Network at 73, and Verizon Fios at 72. At 70, AT&T’s DirecTV came in far below its U-verse offering, but ahead of the industry average.

Optimum led all cable companies in video-on-demand at the industry average of 68, while Cox Communications and Xfinity tied at 67, and Spectrum came in last at 64.

Video-on-demand viewers were pleased with the number of TV shows (75), current seasons (74) and variety by category (74) available. However, the availability of a past season’s shows was lacking (69) as were free on-demand content (69) and new movie titles (68). Call centers received the lowest marks (67), but call center service performed better for on-demand customers than for internet and subscription TV.

While video streaming services received much better customer satisfaction scores than subscription TV, obviously viewers still need internet access to get it. Unfortunately, internet service providers (ISPs), along with subscription TV, had the lowest customer satisfaction of all industries tracked by the ACSI.

ISPs were down 3.1% to 62, and while customers clearly weren’t satisfied with their service, more than half of Americans had only one choice for high-speed broadband. Every major ISP deteriorated this year except Xfinity, which remains unchanged.

Verizon Fios stayed in first place at 70 after a 1% dip. AT&T Internet also fell 1% for a second-place score of 68, followed by Optimum, which dropped 6% to 64.

Suddenlink and Spectrum both plummeted 8% to 61 and 60, respectively, followed by Xfinity, unchanged at 60. Mediacom placed last with a 53 after a 9% fall from last year.

Call center satisfaction, already low, fell another 3% to 59. Customers were also less satisfied with overall data transfer speed, which sank 3% to 67, and the variety of internet plans available, which fell 3% to 64. The one bright spot was courtesy and helpfulness of store and service center staff and speed of store and service center transactions, at 76 and 74, respectively, though both were down from last year.

NAB: 70% of PlayStation Vue Streaming on Non-PS Devices

About of 70% of subscriber streaming on PlayStation Vue occurs through non-PlayStation devices, Dwayne Benefield, VP, head of PlayStation Vue, told attendees April 11 at the Streaming Summit at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. About 80% of streaming is for live TV.

Launched in 2015 by Sony, PS Vue joined Dish Network’s Sling TV attempting to redefine pay-television over the Internet with standalone service offering access to premium channels, including local, without long-term contracts.

The platforms have since been joined by DirecTV Now, Hulu With Live TV, Spectrum TV Plus, YouTube TV and Fubo TV looking to replicate traditional broadcast online with a-la-carte pricing.

Benefield said the average Vue subscriber streams five hours of content daily. While the PS Network has 70 million subscribers across 165 countries, Benefield did not disclose specific subscriber numbers for Vue.

The executive said online TV platforms are getting increased stacking rights to catalog episodes of TV shows as creators and distributors recognize the growing market appeal of online TV.

Benefield said there remains value in the traditional pay-TV bundle, but that online TV represents a growing, cost-effective alternative.

“As [the bundle] does fray, you’ll see us add more a la cartes,” he said in the keynote, as reported by Multichannel News. “I think [online TV] can succeed without broadcast.”

Sling TV Tops 2.2 Million Subscribers

Dish Network Feb. 21 announced that its Sling TV unit ended 2017 with more than 2.21 million subscribers – up 47% from 1.5 million subs at the end of 2016.

Launched in early 2015, Sling TV was the first standalone online TV service, offering access to 20 pay-TV channels priced from $20 monthly without a contract.

The service was the first to offer ESPN outside the pay-TV ecosystem. The concept was so new (Disney licensed ESPN as an experiment) that a blank screen aired during commercial breaks – underscoring marketers’ unfamiliarity with the distribution channel.

Today, online TV represents an alternative to cord-cutters and ongoing erosion of pay-TV households in the Netflix-fueled, over-the-top video era.

Other online TV platforms include PlayStation Vue ($40-$75), DirecTV Now ($35-$70), Spectrum TV Plus ($30), YouTube TV ($40), Hulu With Live TV ($40), FuboTV ($45) and Philo TV ($16).

 

It’s a Netflix World

NEWS ANALYSIS – Netflix hit another fiscal home run Jan. 22, reporting record 8.3 million subscriber growth in its most-recent financial period. The SVOD pioneer now has more than 117 million subscribers globally.

And it’s growing, with no end in sight. The company forecasting 6.4 million new subs in the first quarter, ending March 31.

Oh yeah, Netflix is profitable too – generating $186 million profit on revenue of nearly $3.3 billion – in 90 days! That’s nearly 33% year-over-year growth from the same regulatory period at the end of 2016.

The same day, CNBC reported that online TV competitors “Hulu With Live TV” and YouTube TV had generated 450,000 and 300,000 subscribers, respectively, since launching last year. They trail Dish Network’s pioneering Sling TV with 2 million subs and DirecTV Now with 1 million.

While Hulu, which is co-owned by Disney (Fox), Comcast and Time Warner (AT&T), and Google-owned YouTube haven’t officially revealed sub data, the numbers are telling.

When combined with HBO Now (2 million subs), Showtime OTT and CBS All Access (4 million), the entire online TV universe (including PlayStation Vue) barely edges Netflix’s most-recent quarterly sub growth.

“It actually shows you how poor the value proportion is for live TV,” BTIG Research Rich Greenfield told CNBC.

That’s an understatement.

Hulu’s original SVOD service has 17 million subs, which trails significantly to Netflix’s 55 million domestic subs. Amazon Prime Video, which is bundled with the Prime membership, reportedly has more than 40 million U.S. members – although it is unknown how many Prime members stream video.

Critics suggest Netflix’s domestic sub growth is waning, but CEO Reed Hastings disagrees, arguing the service’s U.S. market remains unchanged from management projections five years ago in the 60 -90 million range.

“So, we’ve got a way to go just to cross into the bottom of our expectation range,” Hastings said on the webcast.

In other words, it’s a Netflix world, everyone else is just living in it.