Who owns the digital pipelines?

Cord-cutting continued in 2019 as U.S. consumers dropped pricey cable TV bundles in favor of internet-based TV and movie options. As the cable/broadband industry consolidates, three major players — Comcast, Charter and AT&T — now control most of America’s digital pipelines.

Subscribers to U.S. video and internet services (Q4 2019 or as noted)

Company Consumer Digital TV Consumer Internet  
COMCAST 21,250,000 28,600,000 Added 1.4 million internet customers in 2019; 9.9 million voice customers
CHARTER  16,140,000 26,670,000 9.4 million telephone subs
ATT (includes DIRECTV) 19,500,000 15,400,000 62.3 million consumer wireless devices; more than 4 million video subs lost from DIRECTV, AT&T U-verse, and AT&T TV NOW in 2019
VERIZON FIOS 4,230,000 6,960,000 94.5 million wireless customers
COX 3,865,000 5,170,000 Q4-2019 estimates
ALTICE 3,179,000 4,187,000 Q4-2019 estimates: about 4.6 million voice customers
DISH 9,394,000  595,000 Includes Sling TV subscribers
CenturyLink n.a. 4,680,000  

Sources: Company reports, Leichtman research

Broadcast TV’s leaky basement

Recent court rulings have upheld the rights of Hopper (Dish Network’s ad skipping tool) and Aereo (feeding broadcast TV channels to your home via internet) to continue their digital challenges to the broadcast TV business model, as recounted by David Carr in his July 29 Media Equation column. aereo_antenna_array1a These upstart services threaten TV advertising and retransmission license fees, respectively, representing worrisome leaks in the basement of the broadcast TV business model. Studies on ad-skipping have shown its appeal. Time-Warner Cable exploited Aereo threat as a bargaining chip in its contentious carriage negotiation with CBS this summer. Though largely unknown to the public, you have to wonder how quickly these digital disruptions could catch on once consumers take notice.