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Google Fiber Signed Up Shockingly Few Video Customers This Year

Google Begins Installing Ultrafast Broadband NetworkGoogle Begins Installing Ultrafast Broadband Network
Boxes of equipment needed to install Google Fiber broadband network sit on a couch at the home of customer Becki Sherwood in Kansas City, Kansas, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Photograph by Julie Denesha — Bloomberg/Getty Images

Google Fiber has attracted fewer than 70,000 pay video subscribers, a tiny fraction of the market despite years of effort. Google could have many more subscribers for its super-fast Internet service, but those figures have not been disclosed.

The latest video figures, updated as of June 30 and released by the U.S. Copyright Office, help explain why Google has largely halted expansion of the service, analysts said.

“For those keeping score at home, that’s a little less than seven one hundredths of one percent of the U.S. video market,” wrote analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson on Friday. Moffett also calculated that the video figure implied that the number of Google Fiber Internet subscribers would be under 500,000 as well.

“If this shockingly low video attach rate is correct, then Google’s economics must have been even worse than we had imagined,” he wrote, “which helps explain why Google’s senior management apparently became disillusioned with the strategy so quickly.”

Google countered that video sign ups have been “very strong” and that the Copyright Office data did not include data from recently added cities of Atlanta, Charlotte and Salt Lake City. Service in those cities, announced last year, launched after June 30, Google said. The company is also building infrastructure in Nashville, where it has been slowed by disputes over getting access to utility telephone poles.

The Internet giant added fewer than 20,000 video subscribers in the first half of 2016, according to the data. That is consistent with Google’s recent moves to delay adding new cities to its effort. The company has told officials in San Jose, Calif., and Portland, Ore., that it will not string up fiber optic cables to offer service and will delay deployment as it explores a possibly cheaper wireless connection strategy. And according to one report, the Fiber unit is undergoing a major restructuring—possibly leading to cutting its staff in half.

Google’s video subscribers have never amounted to much, totaling 12,659 at the end of 2013, 29,867 at the end of 2015, and 53,390 at the end of last year.

Google also appears to have slowed the expansion of its fiber network even in markets where it is available, Moffett discovered. In the first half of 2015, Google expanded its network to pass an additional 72,000 homes, the analyst said, citing the dated but most recent figures released by the NTIA National Broadband Initiative. Google had expanded to pass 224,000 homes in the prior six months.

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“That kind of deceleration is a clear surprise given the amount of press Google has gotten,” Moffett wrote.

Google’s parent, Alphabet (GOOGL), has never officially disclosed how many customers its Fiber unit has or any specifics about its financial results. The unit is lumped in with many projects as parts of the company’s “other bets,” which had revenue of $185 million and an operating loss of $859 million in the second quarter.