Rayburn: Pay TV Q1 sub losses, Nielsen’s flawed TV consumption ranking

Dan Rayburn Industry Voices

Welcome to the latest installment of Dan Rayburn's Streaming Insights & Intelligence, a weekly insights column on StreamTV Insider where the industry analyst puts facts and figures to the news you need to know about. Join the discussion on LinkedIn and check back each week as he unpacks key industry happenings.

Here’s what Rayburn’s tracking for the week of May 15, 2024: Subscriber figures from Q1 pay TV earnings – vMVPD’s not making up for traditional linear losses; Nielsen’s flawed new TV consumption ranking; Comcast’s StreamSaver bundle; Plus, Tubi, EchoStar, Vizio, WBD earnings.

Q1 pay TV subscribers

In Q1, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, Altice, EchoStar and WOW! lost 1.55 million pay TV subscribers, while Hulu+ Live TV lost 100,000 subscribers and Sling TV lost 135,000. Combined, that's nearly 1.8 million live TV losses in Q1. Fubo added 226,000 subscribers in the quarter, and we don't know how many subscribers YouTube TV gained or lost. But it's a safe bet that YouTube didn't make up the nearly 1.55 million difference.

While Peacock and Paramount+ don't have a live linear channel lineup comparable to pay TV, they do have live content. Peacock gained 3 million subscribers in Q1, and Paramount+ added 3.7 million. Consumers are not tuning out live; they are just moving from a deep linear channel lineup to specific live content. Max gained 700,000 subscribers in the US in Q1, but we don't know how many added the B/R Sports Add-On for live sports.

We all know sports content drives live TV viewing and keeps consumers from cutting pay TV services faster, but so far, vMVPDs are not benefiting from a steady stream of new sign-ups. Yet, some in the industry continue to want to imply that Hulu and other vMVPDs are doing better than they are. Someone who covers the streaming space recently said in a LinkedIn post, "...Hulu+ Live TV, in particular, is adding customers at a steady clip." That's simply not accurate.

Over the last three years and one quarter, Hulu+ Live TV has gone from a low of 3.7 million subscribers to a high of 4.6 million. In the previous two years, the number of total subscribers hasn't deviated by more than 10% and in the past five quarters, that number dropped to 6.5%. Six quarters ago, Hulu+ Live TV had 4.5 million subscribers. Disney just reported the same 4.5 million subscribers at the end of Q1. These numbers tell the story; anything else is just hype and poorly-worded posts with vague references. Most often, the person writing the post doesn't know the numbers.

Looking at pay TV cord cutting figures from last year and Q1 of this year, I estimate the pay TV market will lose about 5 million subs combined in 2024. That would be a loss of about 7% of total pay TV households in the US. Chart here.

Nielsen’s new vague TV consumption ranking

Nielsen has launched “The Media Distributor Gauge,” aggregated and ranked by media company, comparing total TV consumption across broadcast, cable and streaming. But as is usual with Nielsen, it's vague and unclear and doesn't make an apples-to-apples comparison.

Some of the brands being compared are parent companies, like The Walt Disney Company, while others are single streaming services, like Prime Video. Nielsen says the new insight is created by mapping all the "broadcast and cable networks and streaming services—up to their parent company," but Prime Video isn't a company; it's a service.

Based on the chart, Freevee wouldn't be included, nor would Twitch, which all fall under Amazon, not Prime Video. YouTube is listed, but not YouTube TV. Why? NBCUniversal is listed as a parent company, which Comcast owns, but Xumo would not be included since Comcast, not NBCU, owns them. Or maybe I am wrong, but the point is, there is no way to know.

And how does Nielsen define "TV consumption?" Most YouTube content is not comparable to the same content on TV channels and services across Netflix, Paramount or Disney. Just on the length of content alone, looking at data from 2022 (the last year I could find it), just over 50% of videos on YouTube were between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. That's not TV. As is, this ranking by Nielsen is useless, flawed and not comparable apples-to-apples.

Comcast’s “StreamSaver” bundle

Comcast's CEO announced plans for StreamSaver, an upcoming bundle of Peacock, Apple TV+ and Netflix that will be available starting this month only to Comcast's broadband, TV and mobile subscribers. He said the bundle will be available at a "vastly reduced price," but no pricing details have been shared.

What Fox didn’t say about Tubi in Q1

If you were hoping for revenue numbers, P&L, or trending rates of CPMs from Tubi, we didn’t get them on FOX’s earnings call.

The company did not discuss any metrics outside of useless MAU numbers, and that total viewing time increased by 36% without giving out actual viewing hours. FOX's CEO said 90% of user time on Tubi comes from VOD content, not their FAST channels. The company declined to say if Tubi is profitable. When asked what Tubi would look like over the next three years, the answer was, "Tubi continues to grow." However, he also cautioned that "there will be some headwinds for the whole marketplace" in the next quarter."

Echostar earnings

EchoStar Q1 2024 Earnings: Sling TV lost 135,000 subscribers to end Q1 with 1.92 million subscribers. DISH TV lost 213,000 pay TV satellite subscribers, ending Q1 with 6.26 million subscribers.

Regarding Sling TV DISH said, "We continue to experience increased competition, including competition from other subscription video-on-demand and live-linear OTT service providers, many of which are providers of our content and offer football and other seasonal sports programming direct to subscribers on an a la carte basis." Sling TV has been in the market for eight years and has never surpassed more than 2.6 million subscribers at its peak.

Vizio earnings

Vizio Q1 2024 Earnings: SmartCast Active Accounts growth is slowing, having added only 100,000 accounts to end Q1 with 18.6 million. Platform+ net revenue was $159.6 million, up 27% YoY. SmartCast Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) was $34.24 (trailing 12 months), up 17% YoY. The number of hours streamed per average SmartCast Active Account was up 8% YoY to 101 hours per month. Users streamed 5.6 billion hours in the quarter. Now has over 300 FAST channels.

Warner Bros. Discovery earnings 

WBD Q1 2024 Earnings: Added 2 million DTC subs (700,000 from US) to end the quarter with 99.6 million. DTC revenue was $2.46 billion on a profit (Adjusted EBITDA) of $86 million. Global DTC ARPU was $7.83, up 4% YoY.

More Q1 details 

  • Regarding the NBA content licensing negotiations, WBD said they are "hopeful to reach an agreement that makes sense for both sides."
  • Costs of revenues increased 5% primarily driven by the allocation of U.S. sports costs
  • International subscriber growth was "partially offset by lower subscribers in the U.S. largely resulting from continued linear wholesale subscriber declines"
  • Speaking of the new upcoming bundle with Disney, WBD said "It will be priced well," but gave out no pricing details
  • WBD's TV networks revenue was down 8% to $5.13 billion, with advertising revenue down 11% (YoY)
  • WBD's studio segment revenue was down 12% to $2.82 billion (YoY)
  • New Lord of the Rings anticipated to release in 2026
  • Company debt stands at $43.2 billion, repaid $1.1 billion in debt during the quarter, and also announced a $1.75 billion cash tender aimed at further reducing its debt.

Dan Rayburn is an analyst in the streaming media industry, with regular TV appearances on CNBC, Bloomberg TV, and Schwab Network amongst others. He is conference Chairman for the NAB Show Streaming Summit in Las Vegas each year, and his streamingmediablog.com website is one of the most widely read sites for broadcasters, content owners, OTT providers, Wall Street money managers, and industry executives. He also has a podcast at danrayburnpodcast.com. He can be reached at [email protected]

Dan Rayburn’s Streaming Analysis & Insights is an opinion column. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of StreamTV Insider.