Another 40% of U.S. pay TV subs ‘at risk’ of cord cutting – analyst

Millions of Americans have already cut the cord and canceled their pay TV service this year, and many more could be planning to do the same in the future.

According to new research from analyst firm MoffettNathanson, the 60% of pay TV subscribers who regularly watch sports are the most entrenched, and represent the potential floor for the pay TV ecosystem – so long as live sports remain exclusively within the pay TV bundle. But that leaves 40% of the current pay TV universe “at risk” of leaving.

According to Leichtman Research Group, the top pay TV providers now account for about 84.8 million subscribers – the top seven cable companies have 46.1 million video subscribers, satellite TV services have 26.3 million subscribers, the top telephone companies have 8.6 million subscribers, and the top publicly reporting virtual MVPD services have 3.8 million subscribers. That means another approximately 34 million pay TV subscribers could be at risk of canceling their service.

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Estimates vary for the total amount of pay TV subscriber losses during the third quarter, but all fingers are pointing toward AT&T as the primary culprit. The drove the vast majority of the video subscriber losses for both for traditional and virtual MVPDs, losing approximately 1.16 million premium video subscribers (DirecTV and U-verse) and lost another 195,000 AT&T TV subscribers for a total of about 1.358 million during the quarter.

MoffettNathanson said the expectation is that AT&T’s video subscriber losses will begin to level off near the middle of 2020, but warned that cable companies’ shift in focus toward profitable subscribers could lead to an acceleration in their subscriber losses.

“In addition, as each cable company continues pushing Flex and other OTT products to their customer base, cord cutting becomes ever easier,” wrote analyst Michael Nathanson in a research note. “This could add further pressure to the pay TV ecosystem and keep the rate of cord cutting elevated in 2020.”

UBS predicted that the U.S. pay TV industry will lose another 6.2 million video subscribers in 2020, down slightly from the 6.4 million the analyst firm predicts will be lost in total this year. If that loss comes to bear it will represent a 6.7% rate of decline, ahead of 6.2% in 2019 and well ahead of 1.2% in 2018 when video subscriber losses totaled 1.2 million.