The nation's cable television industry continues to bleed customers. More than 20 million U.S. households have cut the cord since 2013's peak, and this attrition is accelerating again following the cancellation surge linked to COVID-19's arrival in the United States.
It's not necessarily a reason for cable TV companies' shareholders to panic; this trend is hardly news. On the other hand, given how the cord-cutting movement has remained so brisk for far longer than expected, this trend should be prompting tough questions from the industry's investors.
More of the (miserable) same
The country's top cable-television providers, like Comcast's (CMCSA 0.19%) Xfinity and Charter Communications' (CHTR -0.90%) Spectrum, collectively shed nearly 1.6 million customers during the second quarter of the year. Add in the lesser-known providers' attrition in addition to streaming and satellite cable losses suffered by outfits such as FuboTV (FUBO 5.26%) and Dish Network (DISH), and Leichtman Research pegs the figure in excess of 1.9 million. For perspective, that's roughly 2.5% of the business' total headcount as of the end of the first quarter, reaccelerating a steady streak of losses that's been underway for years.
The graphic below tells the tale of how relentless cable cancellations have been.
The only consistent bright spot in the business has been Alphabet's virtual cable platform YouTubeTV, which topped the 5 million customer mark last quarter. Even Hulu+Live, which is owned by Walt Disney and Comcast, is starting to lose subscribers after a solid start.
It's not too hard to figure out where all the people are going -- to streaming alternatives. Paramount picked up another 2 million regular users for its free-to-watch, ad-supported Pluto TV service, and nearly 5 million paying customers for its premium streaming services. Disney+ picked up another 14.4 million subscribers last quarter. Warner Bros. Discovery's HBO, HBO Max, and Discovery+ saw total subscriber growth of 1.7 million people during this year's Q2. Those additions not only extend long-standing growth trends, but serve as a proxy for the streaming industry's growth here and abroad.
Time for tougher questions
The trend doesn't inherently spell doom for the cable business; nearly all cable companies also offer the broadband service required to access streaming video content. Charter's Spectrum and Comcast's Xfinity offer mobile phone service, while Comcast is parent to NBCUniversal, which owns and operates streaming platform Peacock.
Those other profit centers aren't the fiscal workhorses that cable is, or was, and those other ventures may be nearing their peak. Leichtman Research notes the country only saw net additions of less than 671,000 broadband customers last quarter, and none of them went with Charter, Comcast, or Altice. Indeed, the only meaningful broadband customer gains during Q2 came from telecom outfits Verizon and T-Mobile, which recently launched fixed wireless broadband services.
Bottom line? The cable television industry remains on the defensive. Many cable companies are developing businesses to offset the impact of cord-cutting, and some of them aren't. None of them, however, seem to be doing enough to fully offset cable TV's fading fiscal impact. It's time for investors to start asking tougher questions.