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Good News/Bad News for Cable TV

Jeff Baumgartner

Last year brought its share of bad and good news for the nation's top cable operators when it came to their baseline subscription TV services. While they still lost lots of video customers, those losses are continuing to slow down. The top nine U.S. cable operators lost about 1.41 million video subs in 2012, down from 1.6 million in 2011, Leichtman Research Group Inc. (LRG) said Monday as it released a report that tracks the nation's 13 largest U.S. pay-TV operators, representing about 94 percent of the market. And here's a little something that dampens the notion that so-called "cord-cutting" has become a rampant problem: Those same pay-TV operators together acquired more than 170,000 net additional video subs last year. But the rate of growth (at about 0.2 percent) is slowing, as the additions were about 230,000 fewer than in 2011, according to LRG's study. Broken down by technology, cable still led the way with 51.3 million video subs, followed by satellite (34.1 million) and the telcos (9.3 million). The top telcos added 1.3 million subs in 2012, off from 1.5 million in 2011, while satellite added 288,000, down from 496,000 in 2011. Among major cable MSOs, Time Warner Cable Inc. had the roughest year with 525,000 video sub losses, versus the 336,000 that much larger cable operator Comcast Corp. shed in 2012. AT&T Inc. U-verse gained the most video subs (745,000) in 2012, followed by Verizon Communications Inc. FiOS (553,000). The bottom line is that the U.S. video market is now saturated, making it a "contest over market share," says LRG President and Principal Analyst Bruce Leichtman, in a statement. 2013 could prove to be a pivotal year for cable operators as they try to turn the tide. Many, including Comcast, are expected to get more aggressive with IP-capable, next-gen video services that will be used primarily as a weapon to acquire and retain video customers. (See Comcast's X1 Comes to Colorado.) — Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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