One of pay-TV's top trend analysts, Bruce Leichtman, says the biggest pay-TV companies lost 80,000 TV subscribers over four quarters, a first in his research of more than a decade.
He attributed the decline to the weak housing industry, a saturated pay-TV market, and some cord-cutting. The loss was about 0.1 percent of the 95 million subscriber-TV market.
He calculated the subscriber numbers for the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013, a period that captured seasonal swings in subscriber gains and losses.
Cable- and satellite-TV companies, Leichtman noted, also seem to be de-emphasizing the marketing of services to customers who may drop their subscriptions, seeking more profitable subscribers.
Leichtman cautioned against a knee-jerk reaction that the Internet was killing the pay-TV business with the 80,000-subscriber aggregate loss. "It's not swirling down the toilet bowl," he said, describing the industry as flat.
Leichtman, who runs Leichtman Research Group Inc., estimated that 87 percent of U.S. households subscribed to a TV service and that future TV growth was likely to be dependent on new-home construction.
Though this was the first four-quarter period in which he recorded a loss over pay-TV subscriber cycles, Leichtman said the industry had been flat since the digital transition completed in June 2009.
During that transition, over-the-air TV networks upgraded their transmission signals to digital technology from analog, forcing viewers to buy new TVs or obtain government-financed digital adapters.
The transition, Leichtman said, also forced many pay-TV holdouts to subscribe to cable or satellite TV because of hassles related to the changeover, a last burst of new TV subscribers for the industry.
Leichtman does not see the broad threat to the pay-TV business that others see, noting that when one talks about Internet video providers, they are mostly talking about Netflix.