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Cable, satellite TV companies lose 7 million customers in 2023

Cable boxes, television sets and satellite dishes in a dumpster. (Computer-generated image by The Desk)
Cable boxes, television sets and satellite dishes in a dumpster. (Computer-generated image by The Desk)

Fueled by a wave of cancellations amid rising fees, traditional cable and satellite television companies lost around 7 million customers in 2023, according to a new research note.

The report, provided by Leichtman Research Group, used a mixture of proprietary information with publicly-accessible earnings reports to chart the health of the cable, satellite and streaming pay television businesses across the country.

The top cable TV companies ended 2023 with slightly more than 34 million subscribers, a figure that reflects customers who purchase a traditional cable TV package or comparable cable-owned streaming service as part of their service. Charter leapfrogged Comcast to become the largest cable TV company in the country by subscriber count, with 14.12 million Spectrum TV subscribers at the end of the year compared to 14.11 million Xfinity TV customers, according to Leichtman.

On the satellite side, DirecTV ended 2023 as the largest pay TV provider with 11.3 million subscribers, a figure that includes those who purchase DirecTV via Internet, DirecTV Stream and U-Verse (formerly AT&T U-Verse). The figure represented a year-over decline of 1.8 million customers, slightly less than the 2.03 million pay TV customers Comcast lost during the year, according to the note.

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Losses in cable and satellite were not fully offset by gains in streaming TV, with YouTube TV winning the year with nearly 2 million net customer additions, according to Leichtman. Sling TV added to woes at parent company Dish Network with a loss of 279,000 on the year, bringing down the overall number of customers added on streaming TV services to 1.894 million — a figure that is likely higher because it does not include privately-owned budget streamers like Frndly TV or Philo.

All told, pay television lost around 5 million customers in 2023 when factoring in slight gains in the streaming television space — again, a figure that is likely higher because it doesn’t take into account the number of customers who moved away from small, rural cable operators or those that are privately held.

Data from Leichtman Research shows the top cable and satellite companies lost 7 million customers during 2023, a figure that was only partially offset by gains in streaming cable TV replacements. (Graphic by The Desk)
Data from Leichtman Research shows the top cable and satellite companies lost 7 million customers during 2023, a figure that was only partially offset by gains in streaming cable TV replacements. (Graphic by The Desk)

Cable and satellite companies have voiced their displeasure with broadcasters demanding more money for their broadcast and cable channels, something that leads to a rise in subscriber prices and fuels the trend of “cord-cutting” — customers leaving traditional pay TV for cheaper streaming options.

Over the past few years, some cable and satellite operators have pushed against rising prices by opting to drop channels for weeks or months at a time when broadcasters demand more cash for their networks — a situation that also causes customers to leave a service.

But there are signs that holding the line has started to hurt broadcasters, too: Last month, executives at TEGNA affirmed DirecTV’s move to drop channels for several weeks after the broadcaster demanded more money ultimately hurt its distribution fee revenue, which was “nearly flat” for the year.

TEGNA channels were unavailable to DirecTV subscribers for several weeks until both sides resolved the issue behind closed doors.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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