Traditional TV Subscriptions Are Sinking

Quarantined Viewers Opt for Streaming

Though many Americans are still stuck at home in need of entertainment, they are not turning to traditional cable and satellite TV to pass the time. In fact, these providers saw a record-breaking loss of 1.8 million subscribers during the first quarter of 2020. AT&T (T) lost 1 million of those customers. Dish Network (DISH) shed 413,00 subscribers—the company’s largest quarterly customer loss to date.

The only TV subscriptions that have seen growth amidst the pandemic were Hulu + Live TV, which gained 100,000 subscribers in Q1, and YouTube TV (GOOGL) which added 300,000 new viewers.

Even before the pandemic, more and more households were opting to pay for streaming services like Netflix (NFLX) or Disney+ (DIS) instead of live TV. Now, especially given the lack of live sports airing on traditional cable networks, this trend has been accelerated.

Commercial Customers Cut Cords

In addition to losing business from individual households, satellite and cable TV companies have also lost revenue from larger customers. These include airlines, hotel companies, and restaurants.

Dish recently canceled 250,000 commercial accounts. AT&T also reported a decline in commercial subscribers without disclosing an exact figure. Despite the downturn, on a recent Q1 earnings call, Dish CFO Paul Orban was optimistic about recovery. He remarked , “We expect the vast majority of these commercial accounts to reactivate in the coming quarters. The reactivation will come with minimal cost.”

Uncertainty Surrounds Fall Programming Schedules

Falling subscriber numbers are not the only worry for traditional TV companies. Spring is normally the time when broadcast networks reveal their fall schedules and rake in billions of advertising dollars. But as actors and camera crews have been stuck at home for months, production for many shows has been put on hold. This has left networks unsure of what they will be able to air in the fall.

Fox Broadcasting Co. (FOX) has been able to keep producing its animated shows more easily amidst lockdowns, and plans to release new seasons of Family Guy and The Simpsons. ABC (DIS), Comcast (CMCSA), and ViacomCBS (VIAC) have not yet announced their programming schedules for the fall.

Questions also loom about fall and winter sports seasons. The NFL recently released its schedule and hopes to start the season on September 10. If the pandemic prevents this from happening, networks will be scrambling to fill prime time spots usually reserved for football.

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