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Cord Cutting Can Wait: Subscription TV Added 343,000 Subs in Q4

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Correction: A previous version of this story reported an increase of 343 million subs. We apologize for the error.

With the rise of Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX), Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and other alternatives to subscription TV, there’s been plenty of talk about the death of cable. But based on fourth-quarter data, subscription TV may have more life left in it than people think. The nation’s top cable, satellite and telco TV service providers grew their customer base sharply in the last quarter of 2011, reversing several years of steep decline.

The nation’s top cable, satellite and telco TV service providers collectively added nearly 343,000 new video subscribers in the fourth quarter of last year. It’s a nice little turnaround considering the second quarter of 2011 saw record video customer losses of 195,700 for the top eight publicly traded TV service companies.

The growth was driven by telecom-based services AT&T (NYSE: T) U-Verse and Verizon FiOS, which added 208,000 and 194,000 video customers during the fourth quarter, respectively. Satellite companies DirecTV (NYSE: DTV) (up 125,000) and Dish Network (NSDQ: DISH) (added 22,000) also contributed to this growth.

Good old-fashioned wired terrestrial cable continued to lose video subscribers, but the blood loss decelerated in the fourth quarter. Surveying four out of the five top cable multi-system operators — Cox Communications was excluded because it’s privately held and doesn’t reveal its subscriber data — reveals total subscriber losses for cable of around 206,000 for the three-month period ending Dec. 31.

However, reporting its full-year numbers Monday, Charter (NSDQ: CHTR) revealed that its lost video subs during the period was its smallest fourth-quarter decline in four years. Likewise, the 17,000 subs lost by Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) during the period was its lowest end-of-year decline in five years and compared nicely to the 135,000 the company hemorrhaged at the end of 2011.

So what’s happening here? Did the cord-cutting movement stall out? Hardly — it was the bad economy all along.

“We may not get back to full growth on video for a while, because we don’t see housing growth at the moment, but some day, that’s going to happen,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told analysts during his company’s earnings call on Feb. 15.

6 Responses to “Cord Cutting Can Wait: Subscription TV Added 343,000 Subs in Q4”

  1. Cable cutting is possible.  Just pick a HD antenna and a streaming device (Roku is awesome), most shows can be found on Hulu Plus, others can be purchased over amazon, itunes, or any number of places, more than likely for less than you monthly cable bill.  

    I know, people complain that you have to watch commercials on Hulu Plus…let me help.  Every hour of television equates to a minimum of 20 minutes worth of advertising.  Every hour of Hulu programming has an average of 5-7 minutes of advertising for the NEW stuff, very little to none for older content.  I know, you can FF through ads on your tivo/dvr but really?…twenty minutes of every hour at least?You pay for cable, you pay for hulu…whats the difference…oh yeah, about 15 minutes of advertising…The issue is that america has become a PASSIVE consumer of television, putting on whatever is on for background noise, not because you are actually watching something.  If you wish to cut your cable then you need to become an ACTIVE viewer, choosing what to watch and when, with the ability to watch whatever you want, WHEN you want, without cable. If you did the math, you probably dont watch enough television to equal the value presented by what is essentially an anesthetizing flow of shallow, repetitive programming.

    And when you arent hypnotized by the giant toad on the screen, you can go outside and do stuff…

  2. Those numbers just don’t make sense. 343 million?  206 million? There aren’t even that many PEOPLE in the United States, let alone those subscribing to television.  I hear somewhere 82.6% of people who use statistics in their arguments make them up.  Sounds good to me though!

  3. 343 MILLION??????  That’s more than the US population, isn’t it??!!!

    There also seems to be a lotta chicken counting before the eggs have hatched with cable/sat co’s. They’re still on a downward track – it’s not going to get better, and when will you learn it’s NOT “just the economy”??