US pay-TV subs surge in first quarter of 2014
Joseph O'Halloran
| 16 May 2014
A rising pay-TV tide is floating all boats including the under-pressure cable sector says research from IHS Technology.

Overall, IHS Technology found that US pay-TV subscribers encompassing cable, satellite and IPTV users rose by 202,670 during the first three months of 2014. This represented the market's best performance since a year ago when subscribers declined by 214,580.

In its analysis of the US pay-TV sector, the US research house added that cable has achieved its best quarter in years, moderating recent customer loses. Specifically, cable subscribers fell by 132,330 during the period from January through March, the lowest number of losses since the first quarter of 2011. Over the last two years US cable subscribers have fallen by an average of about 480,000 per quarter.

Cable operators Comcast and Time Warner Cable (TWC) were found to have played a major role in the overall performance of the pay-TV business during the quarter. The former added 24,000 video subscribers in the first quarter, the second straight quarter of positive video subscriber growth for the company. For its part TWC's first-quarter results were the strongest in several years. TWC mitigated its video subscriber losses to just 34,000, a huge improvement over the 118,000 lost during the first quarter of 2013.

"The first quarter is generally the best time of the year for the US cable market, and the start of 2014 was no exception," commented Erikk Brannon, senior analyst for television media at IHS. "Cable achieved its best quarter in years. However, the negative outlook for cable remains the same, as it is expected to continue to contract as AT&T's IPTV service is anticipated to keep gobbling up subscribers. Cable's renewed strength could be foreboding for satellite players Dish and DirecTV."

Indeed the analyst cautioned that satellite is under increasing pressure with headwinds ahead. It noted that a strong quarter from Dish helped mask a soft quarter for satellite, as DirecTV and Dish combined for a gain of 52,000 video subscribers in the quarter, slightly less than the 57,000 gained in the first quarter of 2013.

IPTV was found to be nipping at the heels of satellite, especially both DirecTV and Dish. Yet IHS found that Q1 2014 was the weakest quarter for the IPTV market since 2007 with the two largest operators, AT&T and Verizon, generating collective video subscriber additions of 258,000, compared with 401,000 in the first quarter of 2013.