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Turning a Stumble Into a Run: Pay TV Lifelines for CSPs

By: Tim Young

There’s an old Ellen Degeneres stand-up bit that cracks me up. It’s from her 2003 HBO special Here and Now. I’d link to a YouTube clip of it, but OTT nonsense is how we got into this mess in the first place, isn’t it?

I'm kidding. I’ll leave the jokes to Ellen.

Anyway, she’s talking about the relatable sensation of walking down the street, feeling good on a high self-esteem day. “You’re happy with your outfit, happy with your hair, feeling really good about yourself.”

“It just takes one tiny trip to suck the coolness right out of you.”

And what can you do after that ill-timed, cool-breaking stumble?

Well, you can look back right away, making a big show of pointing out the pebble that precipitated your stumble. Or you can go into denial mode, turning the stumble into a job.

“Oh, I was just going to start running anyway, I didn’t trip. I was just gonna run.”

And that, in a nutshell, is where pay TV operators are as cord-cutting transitions from a blip to a bona fide alternative. They’re trying to find ways to turn a stumble into a run.


According to Q4 2017 results, the US pay TV industry, as a whole, dropped 3.4% from the previous year. That’s the highest rate of decline since the cord-cutting trend started to take off back in 2010, says analyst Craig Moffett.

Those results weren’t wholly surprising after many quarters of subscriber losses for operators of every access technology. AT&T, for example, reported that it lost 90,000 subs in Q3 2017, but that number was only that low because it also added 300,000 subs to its DirecTV NOW streaming service. So the real number of traditional TV subscribers lost was closer to 390,000.

That same quarter, Charter lost 104,000. Comcast lost 38,000 in Q4.

Things may be particularly bad for satellite providers. The industry lost as many as 1.7 million subs in the US last year, according to reports. So the stumble is real. The question is, how can operators turn that stumble into a run?



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