Paid Cable Television Lost Nearly 2 Million Subscribers in 2016

The End of Cable TV

The latest reports are in, and it’s not good news for cable television companies. In what’s being called “the fastest quarterly acceleration on record,” paid TV lost 319,000 subscribers for the fourth quarter of 2016 – a 1.7% drop. That brought the cable industry’s net loss to 1.7 million people total on the year.

While some cable companies did see small gains in their total subscriber base (like Comcast, who grew 80,000 customers on the quarter), the industry overall saw quite a dip. Companies like Dish and AT&T lost customers on the cable TV end of things, but gained a few of those subscribers back through their new streaming TV offerings. Streaming television is a good bit less profitable than cable for these companies than cable is, but at this point in time, gaining any subscribers is a good thing.

“With the results now in from all of the largest operators, it is clear that cord-cutting of legacy distribution services – that is, without including OTT-delivered virtual MVPD bundles like Sling TV and DirecTV Now,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst from MoffettNathanson, “has at last meaningfully accelerated. While there admittedly remain a few smaller operators left to report, the pay-TV business ended 2016 shrinking at 1.7% per year, its fastest quarterly acceleration on record.”

As streaming becomes more popular, the decline in cable TV subscribers should continue. And as other providers (like YouTube TV and Hulu) enter the live streaming market over the next few months, there’s less reason to stick with cable than ever before. Streaming television offers just as many channels as cable television does, and costs only a fraction of the price.

Given streaming television’s mobile capabilities (meaning the ability to watch on a cell phone, TV, tablet, or laptop), their reduced cost, and their robust channel lineups, you can expect people to keep cutting the cord in 2017.

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Artie Beaty

Artie Beaty is a freelance writer from North Carolina who follows the world of streaming closely on a daily basis. Contact him at or on Twitter @AboutCharlotte.
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