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.