TV flickers as viewers find new screens

With roughly 100m US pay-TV subscribers, the loss of half a million customers does not equal Armageddon. The subscriber base shrunk 0.7 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter, its sharpest contraction on record, but nowhere near as precipitous as the declines seen in other media businesses such as newspapers and recorded music.

But after a decade of fretting about cord-cutting, investors think it has finally arrived.
Concerns over younger customers’ changing viewing habits led to a sharp sell-off in media stocks earlier this month. More than $50bn was wiped from the market value of the S&P 500 Media Index, after Walt Disney cut growth estimates for its cable networks and companies including Viacom, Fox and CBS reported declining advertising revenue.

Among the companies who pipe pay-TV into customers’ homes, satellite groups have emerged as the biggest casualties of cord-cutting. These groups amassed a huge subscriber base when they entered the market in the 1990s, with deep discounts to cable products and technology that could reach rural homes — but now the disrupters are being disrupted.