Q. I read your story last week about DIRECTV losing subs again. Do you think it’s because of the Coronavirus? Everyone’s business, including mine, is taking a big hit because of the virus, right? — Hugh, Jacksonville, Florida.
Hugh, AT&T last week reported that DIRECTV and U-verse combined for a net loss of 897,000 subscribers in the first quarter. While AT&T, which owns both services, doesn’t break out the numbers for each one, it’s likely that DIRECTV suffered the greatest losses since the satcaster has more than 15 million customers and U-verse has less than four million.
AT&T in part blamed the Coronavirus outbreak in the first quarter for the subscriber defections, and many media outlets echoed that conclusion in their coverage.
“The economic effects of the pandemic and resulting societal changes are currently not predictable,” AT&T said, suggesting that the virus could cause even greater harm to its properties.
However, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that DIRECTV’s first quarter losses can largely be attributed to AT&T’s ongoing struggle to attract and maintain video subscribers.
DIRECTV and U-verse have now combined to lose roughly seven million subscribers since AT&T bought DIRECTV in 2015. And the two services lost 945,000 subs in the 2019 fourth quarter, long before the Coronavirus outbreak was an issue.
AT&T has yet to offer a satisfactory solution to the escalating defections, and it recently stopped taking orders for U-verse, the TV service it has owned for almost 14 years. (The company continues to provide service for existing customers.)
You can argue that the Coronavirus must have been at least a small factor in the first quarter losses; some Americans have lost their jobs due to the nationwide shutdown and might have cancelled their pay TV service.
But it’s hard to pin the majority of AT&T’s TV problems during the time period on the outbreak when the company is losing a large number of customers in every quarter, regardless of circumstance.
We haven’t yet seen the first quarter results from the other major pay TV services, such as Comcast, Dish and Charter, but Verizon has said its FiOS TV service lost 88,000 subs compared to a net loss of 55,000 in the fourth quarter. Those numbers are pretty similar and would suggest FiOS did not take a huge hit from the Coronavirus.
I think we’ll have a better understanding here of the real impact when we get the numbers from DIRECTV’s rivals, which is expected this week. Until then, this still seems like an AT&T problem, not a Coronavirus problem.
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— Phillip Swann