SNL Kagan: US pay-TV halts losses in Q4 2012

According to an SNL Kagan US multichannel subscribers grew slightly in both Q4 2012 and for the full year, reversing the negative quarterly trends of Q2 and Q3 2012.  The small gain that brought total multichannel subs to 100.4 million illustrates the continued popularity of multichannel video alongside evidence that alternative access is siphoning the segment’s growth potential.

Multichannel service providers in the US collectively added 51,000 new customers in fourth quarter 2012, according to company reports, private MSO surveys and SNL Kagan estimates for total subscribers served by cable, satellite and telco video packages.  The gains for the full year hinged on fourth-quarter performance following declines in the seasonally weak second and third quarters that essentially erased the 2012 first-quarter bump.

The three platforms collectively added 46,000 video customers year over year in 2012, finishing the year with more than 100.4 million. While the industry has never posted a full-year decline in video subscribers, growth has proven difficult above the 100 million-household mark.  For the year, SNL Kagan estimates that U.S. cable subs declined to 56.4 million, DBS subs grew to 34.1 million and telco video subs grew to 9.9 million.

External factors continue to hold a place in the discussion, including persistent high unemployment and other macroeconomic weights along with widespread disruption to East Coast systems from Hurricane Sandy.

However, the modest fourth-quarter and full-year 2012 subscriber growth suggests the segment is not rebounding with the broader economy, and customer formation is lagging the rebounding housing market. According to the fourth-quarter 2012 figures from the US Census Bureau housing survey, occupied housing continued to ramp up, adding nearly half a million new units when including occupied, seasonal and occasional-use households.

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