The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to a major decline in pay tv subscriptions.
Pay TV subscriptions were down 1.8 million in the first quarter of 2020 — a record 7.6 percent drop. Satellite TV subscriptions declined by more than 1 million for three consecutive quarters, making the annual rate of decline 14.3 percent — a figure that would be worse if suspended Dish Network accounts at restaurants, hotels and bars were included. As for cable TV, the 600,000 loss in subscriptions represented a 4 percent annual rate of decline.
“With sports off the air, and with the pain of the tsunami of unemployment just beginning to hit as the quarter ended, all these numbers will get worse in the second quarter,” MoffettNathanson analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson wrote.
Several cable TV companies lost subscribers, but Comcast — which lost 129,000 pay TV subscribers in the first quarter of 2019 versus 409,000 in the first quarter of 2020 — gained 477,000 broadband users, for the “best quarterly result in 12 years.”
Presently, traditional pay TV penetration is at 63 percent of U.S. homes, which where it was in 1995.
Some subscribers have migrated to streaming services, calling them “lifeboats.” However, these streaming services aren’t expected to match the revenues of the established distribution methods.
Cable and satellite TV all hit record-low subscriptions in the first quarter of 2020, stemming from high unemployment and no sports.