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2020 Cord-Cutting Review: Worst Year Ever

2020 Cord-Cutting Review: Worst Year Ever
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

2020 saw more viewers cut the cord than any preceding year. Across cable, fiber optic, satellite and online providers, there were 78.4 million pay-TV subscribers at the close of 2020, representing a fall of 3.5 million, or -4.3%, from 2019.

Key Stats on Cord-Cutting

  • Prior to 2020’s record of exiting consumers, 2019 was the worst year on record, with 3.1 million viewers canceling service.
  • Versus 2016, the total pay-TV market has shrunk by -8.9%, or -7.7 million. MVPDs have seen -17.2 million accounts leave (-20.5%), countered somewhat by 9.6 million new VMVPD sign-ups (+453%).
  • For 2020 to add to 2019’s already huge numbers represents an amplification of cord-cutting. 2018 saw a net decline of 1.2 million viewers across MVPD and VMVPD providers, while 2017 actually increased by 179,000 viewers versus the prior year.
  • 2020’s record decline is due in part to VMVPD sign-ups hitting their lowest annual amount since 2016, with 1.8 million new subscribers across AT&T TV Now, FuboTV, Hulu, Philo, Sling TV and YouTube TV. While 5.3 million MVPD subscribers did cancel their service, this was not as many as 2019’s 5.4 million cancellations.
  • Despite 2020’s record decline, it’s worth noting that the year failed to live up to expectations of major subscription cancellations to massively outstrip 2019’s level in the wake of COVID-19.
  • The worst quarter for cancellations was Q1, most of which were before the pandemic hit, with a total of 2.1 million account losses. The remaining quarters of the year averaged -472k losses each.
  • This is likely due to many relying upon traditional TV news for information during a once-in-a-lifetime event and was boosted by the 2020 election. With increased competition from more major streaming services launching in 2021, and an eventual decline in the pandemic, pay-TV subscribers will begin to ramp up.
  • The MVPD provider with the greatest losses was once again AT&T, which saw 3 million subscribers exit. Comcast was next with 1.3 million cancellations, and Dish saw 578k cutting the cord. Charter bucked the trend, ending 2020 with 19,000 more subscribers than in 2019.
  • Not all VMVPD providers are booming. AT&T TV Now, which is now only available to legacy subscribers, saw 270,000 subscribers cancel, and Sling lost 118k. YouTube TV saw an estimated increase of 1.25 million customers, and Hulu increased by 800k to a reported 4 million.
  • Hulu’s yearly increase hides the slight decrease of -100k customers in Q4. Given Hulu’s VMVPD service implemented what has become an annual price increase in December 2020, the decline is likely a reaction to this, and one VIP expects to see grow in Q1 2021, as it will be the first full quarter since the price hike.
  • Among the six providers reporting total revenue (AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Dish, Verizon and Altice USA), subscriber revenues total $94.4 billion, a fall of -5.4% from 2019’s $99.8 billion.

Data Highlights

1. Trend in difference between quarters for pay-TV subscription

2. Annual subscriber counts by provider

3. Revenues from pay-TV