TV Answer Man, I see that Comcast just lost a ton of subscribers and it makes me wonder how they can go on much longer. Will they have to get rid of their cable TV business and just offer the Internet and streaming? What do you think? — Jeannie, Chicago.
Jeannie, Comcast yesterday reported that it lost 491,000 video subscribers in the first quarter, which prompted several readers to ask me if the company’s cable TV business is in jeopardy. After all, Comcast has now lost approximately four million video customers over the last 63 months. (While that’s a large number, by comparison, AT&T’s two traditional TV operators, DIRECTV and U-verse, have lost more than 10 million during that time period.)
Like satellite, cable TV services are losing subscribers to cord-cutting, and new, and less expensive, live streaming services such as Sling TV, YouTube TV and Hulu Live. Some smaller cable and telco TV services have responded by discontinuing video service, or eliminating marketing it. Instead, they are now focused on expanding their Internet service which continues to grow rapidly thanks to the popularity of streaming.
This has triggered some chatter that the cable business will soon stop providing traditional video packages and pivot to one that only sells the Internet along with subscriptions to popular streaming apps such as Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and HBO Max. You already see some cable operators, such as Comcast, selling the apps so it’s not a reach to envision them dropping the declining sector to focus on the growth categories.
I think this could happen with most, if not all, small cable operators in the next few years. You might even see a few mid-sized cable companies making this switch. With TV subs likely to continue falling, the video business might become more trouble than it’s worth for a company that is already operating on thin-profit margins.
But as for the major cable TV operators, such as Comcast, Charter, Cox and Altice’s Optimum, I believe they will continue to offer video for many years to come. These companies are more diversified financially, and the video business helps them generate customers in other areas.
For instance, Comcast owns numerous TV channels under the NBC banner as well as the new Peacock streaming service. Charter has SportsNet LA, the regional sports channel, and an original programming unit. The video packages are a great promotional tool for them.
The majors also use the video plans to persuade people to bundle service with phone and Internet, generating more income.
Bottom line: Cable TV will be around for a long time, as will satellite TV, in my humble opinion.
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— Phillip Swann