Cable TV's New Math: 751,000 Fewer Subscribers

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Things just don't get any easier for the cable television providers. Folks continue to cut the cord, trading in fat cable bills for cheaper alternatives or settling for streaming solutions. We saw that happen again in 2014.

Comcast (CMCSK) and Cablevision (CVC) reported quarterly results this week. Some aspects of the financial announcements were encouraging, but the news wasn't pretty when it comes to video.

Comcast kicked things off on Tuesday by announcing that it closed out the year with 22.383 million video customers, 194,000 fewer cable TV accounts than it had a year earlier. Yes, Comcast did add 6,000 video customers since the end of the third quarter. This is only the third time in the past 31 quarters that Comcast has come through with a sequential increase. However, there's little reason to think that a turnaround is in the works.

That's Comcastic

Things are so bad at Comcast that it even bragged that closing out the year with a decrease of 194,000 video customers is its best showing in seven years. Yes, saying goodbye to the equivalent of three football stadiums' worth of subscribers is considered a success story. Comcast's cable television accounts peaked at nearly 25 million in 2007, and it's been mostly downhill ever since.

Investors may be in a forgiving mood. After all, despite these past seven years of defecting cable TV customers, we've seen Comcast come through with dividend increases in each of those years. Comcast is also helping its own luck by growing its broadband and Internet phone businesses. Customers may be kissing their fat cable bills goodbye, but apparently they still to cling to Comcast as an Internet provider to deliver the digital video.

There's also its NBCUniversal subsidiary that's now generating more revenue than Comcast's flagship cable TV service. The success of the Universal theme parks helped offset a decline in its film division and a flat performance for its cable networks. That's nice, but how excited can one get about Comcast with its cable television -- and cable networks -- meandering?

Cutting the Cord

Time Warner Cable (TWC) fared worse than Comcast when it reported a few weeks earlier. It closed out the fourth quarter with 10.789 million cable TV accounts, 38,000 fewer than it had three months earlier and 408,000 fewer than were paying Time Warner Cable when the year began.

Comcast is in the process of trying to merge with Time Warner Cable. There's been plenty of resistance in letting the two pair up, but the ugly truth is that since plans for the merger were announced last February, the combined company has shed 602,000 video customers.

It's just not easy to be a cable TV provider these days. Charter Communications (CHTR) reported earlier this month, and it wrapped up 2014 with 4.16 million cable television subscribers. That's a gain of 3,000 accounts for the quarter but a decline of 17,000 for the year. That makes it the relative victor in this slow race to zero.

Cablevision was the last of the the major players to report, and Wednesday morning's report was also uninspiring. It closed out 2014 with 2.681 million video customers, shedding 34,000 during the quarter and 132,000 during the year. The four leading cable TV providers combined to lose 63,000 net subscribers during the final three months of 2014 and a whopping 751,000 for all of 2014.

Yes, it's pretty grim out there. The cable guy's becoming an endangered species.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. To read about our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor, check out our free report.
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