Who owns the digital pipelines?

Cord-cutting continued into 2021 as U.S. consumers dropped pricey cable TV bundles in favor of internet-based TV and movie options. Broadband internet subscriptions grew. Three major players — Comcast, Charter and AT&T — now control most of America’s digital pipelines.

Subscribers to U.S. video and internet services (Q2 2021 or as noted)

Company Consumer Digital TV Consumer Internet  
COMCAST 18,225,000 29,108,000 9.4 million voice customers
CHARTER  15,420,000 27,722,000 9 million telephone subs
ATT  14,174,000 15,481,000 65.5 million phone subs
VERIZON 3,710,000 6,783,000 94.6 million wireless customers
COX 3,865,000* 5,170,000* *Q4-2019 estimates
ALTICE 2,906,000 4,370,000 Q1-2021  2.2 million voice customers
DISH 8,640,000  n.a. + 2.47 million Sling TV subscribers
LUMEN (CenturyLink) 1,400,000 5,000,000 2020 per wikipedia

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.