Video Business Change: Watch for Qualitative Changes

The U.S. linear subscription video business lost more than one million video customers
in 2015, about four times the level of 2014 losses, and the third year in a row that linear subscription TV losses have occurred, according to SNL Kagan.

The fourth quarter improved, with losses no worse than the fourth quarter of 2014. The industry dipped by 15,000 total customers in the fourth quarter.

Mostly, that is noise.

Some observers will suggest that performance reflects a high level of promotional activity on the part of suppliers. Others will conclude that the cord cutting trend has abated.

Not so. The big changes now are going to be qualitative, not quantitative, in the sense of subscriber counts. In other words, OTT suppliers will begin a long march to replicating most of the content richness linear services provide.

So the key changes will not so much be about subscriber gains or losses, but the change in the nature of the relative products. OTT will gain richness, while linear services will offer more-affordable packages with less content diversity.

Cable TV operators lost 599,000 net accounts in 2015, the first time in seven years that the cable TV industry lost fewer than one million accounts. Some will point to telco account losses as a large part of the reason for the limited cable TV losses.

The satellite providers lost 478,000 subscribers during the year, compared to a loss of 39,000 in 2014.

The telco segment ended 2015 essentially flat.

According to Leichtman Research, the big net change in 2015 was that cable TV providers did much better, telcos did much worse.

The top nine cable companies lost about 345,000 video subscribers in 2015, compared to a loss of about 1,215,000 subscribers in 2014.

Satellite TV providers added 86,000 subscribers in 2015 (including Dish Network OTT subscriptions). In 2014 the satellite providers gained 20,000 subscribers.

Excluding the Sling TV gains, DBS providers lost about 450,000 linear subscribers in 2015.

The top telephone providers lost 125,000 video subscribers in 2015, compared to a gain of about 1,050,000 net additions in 2014.

In the fourth quarter of  2015, the top linear TV providers added about 110,000 subscribers, more than the 90,000 added in the in fourth quarter of 2014.

The largest cable companies added about 125,000 subscribers in the quarter, the first quarter for net additions since the first quarter of 2008.

DirecTV net adds of 214,000 subscribers in the quarter were higher than in any quarter since the fourth quarter of 2010.

AT&T U-verse lost 240,000 subscribers in the quarter, compared to a gain of 73,000 subscribers in the same quarter of 2014.

It likely is unwise to assume that the shift to OTT entertainment video has slowed, even if Netflix and others have begun to reach saturation levels. But the bigger changes might come in the form of packaging and pricing, not subscription levels as such.

Look for OTT offers to proliferate, and gradually start to replicate more of the program diversity linear services represent. That is the growth pattern we have seen recently for any number of competitive services.

They start out on the low end of the value continuum, but are available at vastly-lower cost. Over time, value increases. That is going to be the pattern for OTT video as well.
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