Report: Pay-TV Drops 4.7 Million Subscribers in 2021, vMVPDs Add 895K
As the cord-cutting movement continues across the country, a new report from Leichtman Research Group says that pay-TV providers lost 4.69 million subscribers last year. While that is obviously not great news for the industry, it is down slightly from the 4.87 million lost in 2020.
The pay-TV sector of the market includes cable, satellite, and internet-based services — the latter is also known as “virtual multichannel video programming distributors (vMVPD).” The top seven cable companies are responsible for 41.3 million subscribers, while other traditional pay-TV services account for 26.8M, and vMVPDs have 7.9M
However, unlike their traditional counterparts, the top publicly reported internet services saw a net increase in subscribers last year adding 895,000 new accounts, down slightly from the pandemic-aided 2020 high of 915K. Cable accounted for a shedding of 2,695,000 subscribers while satellite and other traditional services dropped 2.89M.
The cable number is likely the most discouraging, as it was an increase of 755,000 lost subscribers from the 2020 mark of 1,940,000. However, the other traditional services cut their losses by nearly 1M lost accounts year-over-year, down from the 3,845,000 lost in 2020.
Removing the vMVPDs from the equation and the pay-TV market had a net loss of roughly 5,585,000 subscribers, just 200,000 fewer than they experienced the previous year.
“While the pay-TV industry continued to lose subscribers, net losses in 2021 were fairly similar to those in recent years,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, Inc. “In 2021, the top pay-TV providers had a net loss of about 4.7 million subscribers, compared to a pro forma loss of about 4.9 million subscribers in 2020, and a loss of 4.1 million in 2019.”
As the U.S. cable leader, it is unsurprising that Comcast suffered the largest losses in terms of subscribers in 2021. However, it is notable that their drop of 1.67 million subscribers is markedly more than their closest competitor Charter, who lost only 367,000 subscribers last year. Given that the margin in total subscribers between the two at the end of the year was only 2.34M, that is a fairly sizable discrepancy.
With these numbers in mind, it will be interesting to see how the recently announced price changes across the streaming industry impact numbers throughout the rest of the year. Between numerous platforms announcing price increases and others announcing cheaper, ad-supported options, it will be worth watching how this all impacts vMVPDs’ continued climb up the pay-TV hierarchy.