Will the Last Pay-TV Subscriber Please Turn Off the Set?

While things are hardly as dire for the pay-TV industry as my title might suggest, subscription numbers for the first quarter of 2015 are far from rosy. In fact, net pay-TV adds were the lowest they’ve been in ten years.

So says Leichtman Research Study Group in their most recent analysis of the pay-TV industry.

While the first quarter of the year has typically been the strongest for adding new subscribers (due, in large part, to holiday television gift giving), Leichtman reports that the top 17 cable and telephone companies added less than 10,000 net new video subscribers in the first quarter of 2015, compared to 250,000 adds in the same time period a year previous.

Phone companies were a bright spot among the top U.S. pay-TV providers, adding a combined 140,000 new customers in the first quarter of the year: Verizon FiOS added 90,000 subscribers, and AT&T U-verse added 50,000. DBS providers were down 74,000 subscribers, with DirecTV up 60,000 and DISH down 134,000. Cable companies were down 58,264 subscribers, with Time Warner up 33,000 and Mediacom up 1,000. Others more than counteracted these gains, however—Cable ONE was down 29,884 subscribers, Cablevision 28,000, Comcast 8,000, and Suddenlink 6,400. Read more

Like the Winter’s Snow, Pay TV Subscribers Continue to Slowly Recede

On the heels of a drop of 95,000 subscribers in 2013, the pay TV industry lost another 125,000 in 2014 according to data compiled by Leichtman Research Group (LRG).

But is this a thing? Perhaps not—given that LRG estimates the top pay TV providers serve in excess of 95 million customers, these losses may amount to no more than a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Telephone companies fared the best according to LRG, adding more than 1 million video subscribers in 2014. DBS providers added 20,000.   These gains were erased by the top cable companies, who lost a collective 1.2 million subscribers, or nearly 2.5% of their customer base. The biggest declines were posted by Cable ONE (down 19%), Mediacom (6%), Cablevision (5%), and Suddenlink (4%.) Comcast lost the fewest customers among the cable companies, down less than 1%. Read more

The Beginning of the End of Expensive Programming Bundles?

Alleging antitrust violations, Cablevision filed a lawsuit against Viacom late last month. Cablevision claims that Viacom is illegally forcing it to carry and pay for 14 lesser-watched ancillary channels that its customers do not watch in order to have access to must-have programs like Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central.

Cablevision’s complaint asserts that Viacom engaged in a “per se” illegal tying arrangement in violation of the federal antitrust laws. It also asserts that Viacom has engaged in unlawful “block booking,” which is a form of tying that conditions the sale of a package of rights on the purchaser’s taking of other rights.

Cablevision contends that Viacom abused its market power over commercially critical networks and coerced the company by threatening to impose massive financial penalties unless Cablevision complied with Viacom’s demands. Cablevision also alleges that Viacom’s conduct harms Cablevision and its customers, impairing competition by making the cable provider pay for and carry networks that many subscribers do not want to watch, while other networks are excluded from distribution, thus preventing Cablevision from being able to differentiate its services and harming subscribers.

The practice of tying lesser-watched programming to must-have programming is rampant in the video programming business, driving  up the cost of video services and preventing video providers from offering consumer friendly bundles. NTCA has actively advocated against the practice, seeking legal and regulatory relief at the FCC and on Capitol Hill. We will be watching this lawsuit closely, hopeful that it signals an end to the stranglehold programmers have held on video service providers and the beginning of a new era of consumer choice.

Court Rules Verizon Violated STB Patents

Last week, a federal judge ruled that Verizon must cease using two patents owned by interactive TV firm ActiveVideo Networks, issuing a permanent injunction effective May 23, 2012.

In the meantime, until the permanent injunction is in place, the court ruled that Verizon must pay ActiveVideo $2.74 per FiOS TV subscriber per month starting December 1. For Verizon, which has about 3.98 million FiOS TV subscribers, this works out to about $10.9 million per month.

Active Video, an interactive TV vendor whose largest client is Cablevision, initially filed suit against Verizon back in May 2010. In August 2011, the court concluded that Verizon’s FiOS TV violated four of five patents asserted by ActiveVideo and awarded the company $115 million in damages. Later that month, ActiveVideo filed a motion for a permanent injunction against the telco barring it from using two of the patents in its video-on-demand (VoD) service. And just last month, the court added at least $24.1 million in supplemental damages and interest to the amount Verizon owes ActiveVideo.

“There is no doubt that ActiveVideo suffers indirect losses when Cablevision suffers direct losses from Verizon’s infringement,” Judge Jackson wrote in the order released last Wednesday. Read more

VOTW: Leading the Orchestra

And last but not least, our video of the week (VOTW), brought to you by Viodi TV.

The recent announcement by Affinegy of its Home Portal v2.0 software and related announcement that Cablevision is deploying it, is further evidence of the growing importance of the converged home to service providers’ business plans. Viodi TV  caught up with Affinegy CEO Melissa Simpler at the Parks Associates Connections conference, where she discusses Home Portal v2.0.

In addition to the discovery and simplification of devices on a home network, the Home Portal v2.0 software effectively allows service providers to create personal data clouds for their customers. The Affinegy software, which identifies the devices on the home networks, serves as an orchestra leader of sorts directing the devices as to where to stream data.

AMC Network in Play?

Spun off last week by Cablevision, the former Rainbow Media Holdings may be the acquisition target for one of several media companies. Rumor has it that Disney, News Corp. and Time-Warner each may have an interest in buying the newly renamed AMC Networks.

AMC Networks owns AMC, IFC, WE TV and the Sundance Channel. AMC also owns IFC Films and international programmer and TV program distribution unit. Speculation is that a deal for AMC Networks could run in the $3 billion range.

None of the organizations has commented publicly on the rumor. Of course if a deal is to go through it will provide the wining content provider with even more market power in retransmission consent negotiations.

Verizon Falls Short in STB Dust up with Cablevision

Last Friday, a U.S. International Trade Commission judge tossed claims that Verizon made against Cablevision Systems on set-top box patents. Verizon filed the complaint and suit against the cable MSO in early 2010.

Verizon claimed that three Cablevision set-top boxes (STBs) violated five patents held by the telco. Verizon released the following statement last Friday: “Our pursuit of this action reflects our long-established commitment to protect and enforce our intellectual property rights.”

Cablevision responded: “This is a significant victory for Cablevision, the judge rejected four of Verizon’s five claims in the case and the fifth had already been invalidated by a Virginia court. We are obviously pleased and will continue to defend ourselves vigorously as the process continues.”

Verizon is currently preparing a second case for review citing two additional patents that it believes Cablevision to be violating. If Verizon is victorious, the court will block Cablevision from importing three digital set-top models from Cisco, key hardware which subscribers use to record programs on the MSO’s new network DVR service.

In related news, ActiveVideo, an interactive TV vendor whose largest client is Cablevision, is waiting for a decision in a suit filed against Verizon for similar patent infringements in May 2010.

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