Cord cutting continued during the third quarter of the year with hundreds of thousands of defectors from traditional pay TV providers. But the net result is a glass half full or half empty, depending on your point of view.
As the pay TV marketplace evolves -- and fledgling streaming video services take hold -- consumers may find fewer deals as TV providers focus on high-paying customers for full-sized traditional TV bundles.
With cable, satellite and telco TV providers began releasing their July-September financial performances, some analysts estimated that cord cutting losses could hit 1 million for the quarter. In the end, that number will be about right, with pay TV companies possibly losing more than 1 million subscribers.
But that doesn't tell the whole story. Dish Network, which was the last publicly-traded pay TV provider to release its third-quarter earnings, on Thursday reported it lost about 129,000 pay TV subscribers during the quarter. That result came after accounting for 145,000 customers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which Dish removed from its total because of hurricanes hitting there, and 16,000 net new pay TV subscriber additions in the U.S. states.
Dish’s Net-delivered subscription live TV service Sling TV, launched in February 2015, helped offset losses of Dish's satellite service. Similarly, DirecTV Now helped offset AT&T's lost subscribers to its DirecTV satellite and U-verse fiber-delivered TV services.
Overall, the pay TV industry will probably lose a net total of about 400,000 subscribers for the last quarter, says Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research in Durham, N.H. That compares to about 250,000 lost subscribers during the July-September period a year ago, he says.
Some U.S. losses could also be attributed to the hurricane disrupting service to subscribers in Texas and Florida, he said. And other direct-to-consumer broadband-delivered pay TV services such as Hulu, PlayStation Vue and YouTube Live, which have not released subscriber numbers, "would obviously make up for some of those losses," Leichtman said.
Evercore ISI analysts Vijay Jayant and James Ratcliffe agreed in a note to investors Thursday that when all broadband-delivered subscriptions services are taken into account, by their estimates, "the acceleration in traditional Pay TV net losses (year-over-year) was almost entirely offset by an acceleration in (virtual multichannel video programming distributors) subscriber gains."
Going forward, traditional pay TV providers may focus on higher-paying customers, while letting lower-paying customers opt for broadband-delivered TV services, which cost $25-up monthly, Leichtman says.
Dish Network's Q3 results offer some insights: the company cut subscriber acquisition costs by 20%, while the average monthly revenue per subscriber fell only 2.5% to $87.23. "It’s the mix of consumers and provider strategies that are impacting the market," Leichtman said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.