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The volatility of Western Europe’s economies has caused what Informa Telecoms & Media is calling a historic decline in pay-TV subscribers.

The leading media analyst says the fall, the first subscriber decline since pay-TV’s European launch in the 1980s, is a hugely significant moment. The survey calculated that there were 93 million pay-TV subscribers across the region at the end of 011, but more than 380,000 were lost during the year, leading to an end-2012 total of 92.6 million.

The Eurozone countries bore the brunt of the fall in subs with numbers collapsing by 800,000 in Italy to 7.9 million, Germany by 180,000 to 21.7 million, Spain by 261,000 to 4.3 million and France by just 3,000 to 12.2 million. However, the rest of Europe saw a rise of 670,000 to 32.3 million, and the UK flew the flag for pay-TV with a 190,000 rise in pay-TV subs to 14.4 million.

The data should act as wake-up call to the industry, according to Adam Thomas, Informa’s Media Research Manager. “[The survey] confirms pay-TV growth is no longer insulated against economic downturns. The heaviest losses were experienced in markets like Italy and Spain, where the Eurozone crisis has been hitting hard.”

Yet Ted Hall, senior analyst covering Western Europe, added that the setback could be only temporary and that it did not mark a tipping point. “While these findings are unwelcome, they should not be overstated,” Hall asserted. “There were a fairly unique set of fiscal circumstances in play last year and, as economic recovery kicks in, pay-TV subscriber numbers will return to growth. Indeed, we are forecasting that the pay-TV total will rise to 94 million this year, so, while the 2012 drop injects some caution, there is no suggestion the wheels are coming off the pay-TV bandwagon.”

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