By Aaron Pressman
February 22, 2019

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Altice USA, the cable mothership of Optimum and Suddenlink that sucked up Cablevision a few years ago, reported decent financial results on Thursday. But the report also marks the final public disclosure we needed to assess the state of cord cutting at the end of 2018. Altice revealed a net loss of 15,000 cable TV customers in the fourth quarter. We already knew that Charter lost 36,000, Comcast shed 29,000, and Verizon 46,000 for the same period. AT&T lost 391,000 for both cable and satellite TV and satellite-only provider Dish Network shrank by 334,000. Net net, that’s 851,000 fewer paying customers for pay TV.

It looks like the legions of cord cutters set a new record for the quarter and are up significantly from a year ago, when one research firm calculated almost 500,000 departed, at the time a historic high.

And there’s more bad news for the industry. Unlike last year, the number of people signing up for cable-like bundles of channels over the Internet also may be shrinking now. Most of the services, such as Sony’s Playstation Vue TV and Google’s YouTube TV, don’t disclose their subscriber numbers regularly, if at all. But AT&T does, and it revealed a net loss of 267,000 DirecTV Now subscribers in the quarter. Dish, which also discloses for its Sling TV service, increased by just 47,000, about one-quarter the gain of a year earlier. Most of the Internet cable packages raised prices by $5 or more a month during the year, cutting into their appeal to cord cutters—most of whom, after all, are motivated by trying to save money.

This year could be even more significant as two of the most anticipated new Internet streaming services finally arrive. Disney is planning to lean heavily on its “iconic brands and franchises,” in the words of CEO Bob Iger, when it launches its Disney+ service later this year. More details are expected at an April 11 investor day, including maybe the price. (Iger has promised to undercut Netflix.) Apple is relying on outside talent—everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg—for its as-yet unnamed offering that is rumored to be officially announced on March 25. Both services obviously will offer TV fans even more reason to drop traditional pay-TV. Expect to hear about another record year of cord cutting a year from now.

Aaron Pressman


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