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Pay-TV losses in the US could get very ugly, depending on how many households decide to go with skinny bundles in the next year or so and research from RBC Capital Markets suggests that this could be a significant number.

According to RBC analyst Steven Cahall, a survey of 1,200 US consumers found that just 55% will definitely continue to subscribe to traditional pay-TV. Extrapolating to the total population of 124 million American households, it means that subscriptions could drop from 86 million pay-TV homes to 68 million.

This “implies subscriber declines still have lots of potential downside,” Cahall wrote in a report obtained by Variety.

Skinny bundles will be a big part of that downside, potentially. The survey found that 21% of existing cable, satellite or telco TV customers were considering switching to a service like Sling TV or DirecTV Now.

“While they don’t necessarily save consumers much money, [internet pay-TV services] do provide more flexibility on cost due to the month-to-month arrangement, have lower switching costs between similar services and avoid much-hated ‘hidden fees’ like set-top box rental and [regional sports networks],” the RBC analyst noted.

Cahall added: “We broadly conclude that customers feel like they ‘get what they pay for’ on [virtual pay-TV services] vs a perceived mistrust about the true cost of cable.”

About half (48%) of respondents said access to sports wasn’t important — sports being a major driver for linear TV packages. Broadcast fared worse: only a quarter (23%) said broadcast networks were the most important content or platform to them.

The study also showed that subscription VOD continues to complement traditional pay-TV: 72% of respondents subscribe to (or use) an SVOD or over-the-top service. Netflix was the most popular, with 61% of respondents saying they’re subscribers, followed by Amazon Prime Video (41%), Hulu (18%), HBO Now (13%), Showtime (4%) and CBS All Access (3%).

All of this has big implications for advertising, of course.

“We conclude that a ratio [of virtual pay-TV subscriber adds] that favours cannibalistic over incremental [growth] is modestly negative for media,” Cahall concluded.
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