AT&T’s CEO predicts that millions more will cut the cord
TV cord-cutting is picking up steam, and AT&T’s CEO predicts there’s a long way to go before it stops.
On an earnings call Thursday, AT&T CEO John Stankey said “we’re probably going to see a little bit of a plateauing” when the number of homes subscribing to pay TV hits 55 million to 60 million. Most of those homes will include sports fans, he said.
It’s a stark outlook for an industry that’s already suffered a long subscriber exodus. There were about 91 million pay-TV subscribers at the end of 2019, including some 8 million who signed up to online-TV bundles like Hulu and YouTube TV. About 3.5 million people cut the cord in the first half of the year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
While AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications and other TV providers are focusing their businesses on delivering internet service, owners of cable channels are especially vulnerable. That’s because more cord-cutting means lower subscriber fees, a key revenue stream. Stankey added that AT&T is focusing on growing its new online streaming service, HBO Max, to prepare for the future.
AT&T said Thursday that it shed another 590,000 TV subscribers last quarter. With customer losses mounting, AT&T has been looking to sell the majority of its satellite-TV business, DirecTV.
Stankey’s comments suggest there is a floor for the number of people who will pay for the traditional bundle with hundreds of cable channels.
Just how quickly the industry reaches that floor remains to be seen. The research firm Kagan predicts there will be 59 million subscribers by 2022.
The pay-TV industry is on pace to lose about 11% of its traditional customer base in 2020, compared with a 6.5% drop last year and a 3% decline in 2018, according to Kagan.
The pay-TV industry was already threatened by the rising number of low-cost streaming alternatives, namely Netflix. Then the pandemic, which postponed sports and led to higher unemployment, helped “fan cord-cutting flames,” according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Geetha Ranganathan.