Whether they like it or not, cable companies are fast becoming broadband-first companies.
But it’s not by choice that they are embracing over-the-top video, starting their own web video offerings or finally coming around to the idea of cord-cutting. “It’s totally, totally shifted to Netflix,” Charlie Ergen, the CEO of Dish Network, recently told The New York Times. “Netflix is the most powerful content aggregator in the world today.” After being in denial, Time Warner recently started offering HBO as a stand-alone service and is working with other digital video-streaming platforms too.
According to the latest data from Leichtman Research Group, the 17 largest cable and telephone providers in the U.S. (roughly 94 percent of the total broadband market) added 360,000 net additional high-speed internet subscribers in the second quarter of 2015. That brought the total to 88.9 million subscribers. For comparison, the top cable companies have 53.5 million broadband subscribers, and the top telephone companies have 35.4 million subscribers.
If you separate the data, you can see that cable is continuing to gain subscribers while phone companies are seeing their share slide, especially as they abandon DSL connections in favor of fiber and faster flavors of copper-fiber hybrid. AT&T and Verizon added 313,000 subscribers via U-verse and FiOS, respectively, in the second quarter of 2015 but had a net loss of 474,000 DSL subscribers.
Cable added about 510,000 broadband subscribers in the second quarter of 2015 while telcos lost about 150,000 subscribers during the same time. Leichtman points out that “telcos have had net broadband subscriber losses in four of the past six second quarters” and that “cable has accounted for 95% of the approximately 3,000,000 broadband additions.” Comcast is the king, adding 179,000 to total a whopping 22.55 million subscribers. Meanwhile Time Warner added 189,000 new subscribers and now has 12.77 million subscribers.
Cable keeps gaining market share because companies continue to offer (and occasionally deliver) higher-speed packages that are more in sync with the needs of today’s data-centric household.
In sharp contrast to the boom in broadband subscribers, cable companies are continuing to see a decline in pay-TV subscriptions. Leichtman’s research data says that the “thirteen largest pay-TV providers in the US – representing about 95% of the market – lost about 470,000 net video subscribers in 2Q 2015, compared to a loss of about 305,000 video subscribers in 2Q 2014.”
The top nine cable companies lost about 260,000 video subscribers in the second quarter of 2015. Satellite TV providers lost 214,000 subscribers in that same time period (including gains from Dish’s internet-delivered Sling TV), and phone companies added 4,000 new video subscribers. Over the past year, the top pay-TV providers (including Dish’s Sling TV) lost about 370,000 subscribers.
Looking back at these two disparate data sets, it is hard not to see that cable companies have to internalize the fact that they are in the business of bandwidth. And selling more bandwidth for higher monthly tariffs means they need to enable better access of everything from videos to games to virtual reality to whatever internet fancies.