What just happened? It's no secret that video streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu are sapping subscribers away from traditional cable services, but the rate at which this is occurring might shock some. In an earnings report published today, AT&T revealed that it lost roughly 900,000 TV subscribers in the first quarter of 2020.
While that number may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to AT&T's overall number of TV subscribers -- which sits at 18.6 million -- it's still a significant loss, and it's the sign of an ongoing trend that doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. AT&T has hemorrhaged millions of subscribers over the past several years. Indeed, in the first quarter of 2019, AT&T had 22.4 million premium TV subscribers, meaning it's lost about 3.8 million customers in a single year.
No matter how you look at it, that's bad news for AT&T. However, the company does have a bit of an excuse for losing nearly a million subscribers in this particular quarter -- Covid-19. The virus has prompted millions upon millions of people to stay home and avoid going to the office (if they have one), which has, in turn, pushed them toward convenient, affordable, and contract-free video services like Netflix.
You need look no further than Netflix's own Q1 2020 financial report for evidence of that: during the quarter, the company netted an additional 15.8 million subscribers. That's no surprise, of course; one of the core strengths of Netflix is its on-demand nature. Now that so many individuals have found themselves with an abundance of free time (for better or worse), the binge-worthy nature of many Netflix (or Hulu, or Disney+, and so on) shows is proving very appealing.
We'll be curious to see how well (or poorly) AT&T's premium TV business fares over the next year. We don't exactly expect to see a major recovery given the state of the world right now, but only time will tell.