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Cord Cutting in the US Continues in 4Q 2020

The largest traditional cable providers collectively lost over 1.3 million customers in the fourth quarter of 2020—an overall loss of 1.7% of customers. To put the quarter’s loss into perspective, the big cable providers lost 14,158 cable customers per day throughout the quarter.

The numbers below come from Leichtman Research Group, which compiles these numbers from reports made to investors, except for Cox, which is estimated. The numbers reported are for the largest cable providers, and Leichtman estimates that these companies represent 95% of all cable customers in the country.

Following is a comparison of the fourth quarter subscriber numbers compared to the end of the third quarter of 2020:

4Q 20203Q 2020Change% Change
Dish TV8,816,0008,965,000(149,000)-1.7%
AT&T TV3,505,0003,500,0005,0000.1%
Atlantic Broadband318,387317,7876000.2%
Cable One261,000277,000(16,000)-5.8%
Total Cable43,879,38744,331,887(452,500)-1.0%
Total Satellite21,816,00022,565,000(749,000)-3.3%
Total Telco7,917,0008,018,000(101,000)-1.3%

Some observations about the numbers:

  • The big loser continued to be AT&T, which lost a net of 595,000 traditional video customers between DirecTV and AT&T TV (relabeled from AT&T U-verse).
  • The big percentage loser continues to be Frontier which lost 6.4% of its cable customers in the quarter, followed closely by Cable One.
  • This is the eighth consecutive quarter that the industry lost over one million cable subscribers.

To put these losses into perspective, the industry has now seen huge customer losses over the last two years. At the end of 2018, these same companies had over 85.4 million customers that had dropped to 79.5 million by the end of 2019, and now down to 73.6 million households by the end of 2020. This is a loss of 11.8 million customers over two years.

The big losses in cable subscribers happened at the same time that the biggest ISPs in the country are adding a lot of customers. The biggest ISPs added almost 900,000 new subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2020 and added 4.6 million new broadband customers during 2020.

In earlier quarters of 2020, we saw that a lot of customers dropping traditional video were switching to online versions of the full cable line-up. That didn’t carry into the fourth quarter of 2020, where the combination of Hulu plus Live TV, Sling TV, AT&T TV, and FuboTV collectively lost 18,000 customers.

By Doug Dawson, President at CCG Consulting

Dawson has worked in the telecom industry since 1978 and has both a consulting and operational background. He and CCG specialize in helping clients launch new broadband markets, develop new products, and finance new ventures.

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