Subscriber Losses Hammer TV Providers' Stocks

Rising prices for traditional TV bundles and growing digital options are driving customers online and away from traditional TV. AT&T, Dish Network Inc. and others are offering cheaper, online-only versions of cable to lure customers back, but that means having to accept thinner profit margins.

According to Leichtman Research Group, the top 11 providers representing more than 95% of the US pay-TV market lost around 374,000 customers in the third quarter.

After decades of steadily increasing bills and ever-bigger packages of channels, the pay-TV ecosystem is in full-blown crisis mode.

AT&T partly blamed competition from over-the-top services for subscriber losses in its satellite business, but it's unclear how many satellite defectors ended up moving to DirecTV's own streaming service. The company is also blaming stricter credit standards for customers and the impact from hurricanes. Charter Communications Inc., the second-biggest cable USA company, is now fighting with Viacom over a distribution deal that could lead to a blackout of Viacom's channels for millions of its customers.

But with video subscriptions falling, Stephenson is also under pressure to prove he can keep people paying for TV in the first place.

Barring a major fourth-quarter comeback, 2017 is on course to be the worst year for conventional pay-TV subscriber losses in history, surpassing last year's 1.7 million, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Dallas-based AT&T is pushing headlong into TV programming by acquiring HBO and CNN owner Time Warner an $85.4 billion deal. AT&T stock fell 6.1 percent after the announcement in the biggest one-day loss since November 2008.

The increase of cord cutters is weighing on TV providers' stocks. Only one of the large conglomerates, 21st Century Fox, recorded a gain, a paltry one-tenth of 1 percent. Dish, which also provides satellite service, declined 5.1 percent.