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Pay TV Subscriptions to Decline for 20th Straight Quarter Since Q1 2016

Jeff Kotuby

In a clear sign of the times, more traditional linear cable networks are losing subscribers in favor of live TV streaming services.

Variety reports that MVPD subscribers will decrease by 1.4 million from last quarter’s numbers, continuing a downward trend that’s been happening since 2016. As subscriber numbers from Comcast, AT&T (who owns DirecTV,) Charter, Dish, Verizon, and Altice continue to steadily decline, numbers from streaming services like Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, Sling TV, Philo, and fuboTV have generally risen in the same time frame.

Provider Q1 2016 Q1 2017 Q1 2018 Q1 2019 Q1 2020 Q1 2021
Comcast 21.4M 21.5M 21.2M 20.9M 19.9M 18.6M
AT&T 25.4M 24.7M 23.9M 22.4M 18.8M 15.9M
Charter 17.1M 16.7M 16.4M 16M 15.6M 15.5M
Dish 12.9M 11.8M 10.8M 9.6M 9M 8.7M
Hulu with Live TV 1M 2M 3.3M 3.8M
Verizon 4.7M 4.7M 4.5M 4.3M 4.1M 3.8M
YouTube TV 100K 600K 1M 2.3M 3.4M
Altice USA 3.6M 3.5M 3.4M 3.3M 3.1M 2.9M
Sling TV 988.4K 1.7M 2.3M 2.4M 2.3M 2.4M
Philo 50K 125K 500K 850K
AT&T TV Now 375K 1.5M 1.5M 788K 625K
fuboTV 35K 70K 131K 210K 287K 590K
PS Vue 250K 400K 500K 525K

figures provided by Variety

AT&T Now’s numbers have fluctuated over time and have seen a decline in recent years, but could yet rise due to their status as the only streaming provider with Bally Sports RSNs. Playstation Vue was strong but was sunsetted by parent company Sony in January 2020.

Variety also mentions that consumers are quickly embracing free, ad-supported TV even in lieu of the more expensive live TV streaming options. As these cord-cutting services were supposed to save money, it makes no sense for financially conscious consumers to ditch their cable company’s bloated channel lineups just to overpay for the same giant bundles through a streaming provider. Variety mentions Pluto TV, Tubi, Xumo, and Peacock channels as destinations for viewers who are tired of overpaying for content.

Tubi is the darling of Fox execs, mostly due to its success since being acquired last May. Fox co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch said his network expects to “win in AVOD with Tubi” and Fox president of advertising sales Marianne Gambelli said, “We think Tubi is TV on steroids.”

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