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US pay TV takes quarterly subscriber hit

The top 13 US pay TV operators lost 150,000 TV subscribers in the third quarter, compared with a loss of only 25,000 for the same period in 2013, according to research by Leichtman Research Group.

Satellite was worst hit, with satellite TV operator losing 40,000 customers in the quarter, compared with a net gain of 174,000 in the third quarter of 2013. Cable did slightly better than last year, with a loss of 440,000 video customers for the same period last year, but IPTV providers did worse than last year, gaining 330,000 subscribers against a 2013 gain of 400,000.

Putative merger partners Time Warner Cable and Comcast were the biggest cable losers, dropping 182,000 and 81,000 video customers respectively. Of the satellite players, DirecTV added 28,000 customers while DISH gained only 12,000. IPTV provider AT&T U-verse was the biggest pay TV gainer by far, adding 216,000 customers in the quarter, against 114,000 for Verizon FiOS.

Overall, the top operators were down about 100,000 subscribers over the last year, according to Leichtman.

“The pay-TV industry is characterized by seasonality. While the first and second quarters of 2014 showed slight industrywide improvements over 2013, the third quarter was down from a year ago,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group.

“If recent history is an indicator, the pay TV industry will follow the fourth quarter trend, and close 2014 with a modest subscriber gain in the quarter.”

According to Leichtman, the top 13 providers account for 95.3 million subscribers, or 95% of the US pay TV market.