The cable TV industry by the numbers 3Q14

I wanted to take a look at what's going on in the pay TV industry in the US, so I charted out some data from the top providers over the past ten years. A few caveats before we get to the data... I looked at the 13 biggest providers as of today, which represent approximately 93 million of the 101 million total pay TV subscribers. These were not the 13 largest 10 years ago (in fact some did not exist), so some of the older data may be a bit misleading, especially as it pertains to cable providers (as opposed to satellite or teleco providers). Unless otherwise noted, all data was taken from SEC filings. Pay TV Subscribers by Type

The total number of pay TV subscribers is roughly holding steady as a percentage of total households over the past few years. It seems pretty clear that satellite and telco (AT&T and Verizon) providers have been taking share away from cable providers. Again, the older data under-represents the total number of cable subscribers, and therefore total pay TV subscribers. Total household data is from the US Census.

Total Pay TV Subscribers

We can clearly see the growth of the individual satellite and telco providers here. Some of the sharpness in changes to Comcast's and Time Warner's subscriber numbers are due to acquisitions and to a lesser extent divestitures. The smaller cable companies all seem to be slowly losing share to the larger companies.


ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) is the average revenue providers receive from video services alone, and does not include internet or voice revenue. I was only able to calculate ARPU for companies that reported revenue from video services separate from other services. AT&T, Verizon, and Cox do not report this, along with a few of the smaller cable providers, but over 80% of the total subscribers represented in the previous chart are included in the ARPU calculation.

I've seen many news articles that mention rising monthly pay TV bills, but the dramatic rise in prices over just ten years was still a surprise to me. Over the past ten years rising prices can be partially attributed first to the analog-to-digital cable TV transition, and then more recently additional fees for HD boxes and DVR's. The pay TV providers have also passed along higher costs from the TV networks, in part due to higher prices for premium programming such as live sports and high-budget original content. This explains why many providers are reporting record revenues even as their subscriber growth slows or turns slightly negative.

Service Subscribers

Finally, I wanted to see how the number of subscribers to various video services compares to pay TV subscribers. HBO/Cinemax and Netflix numbers are both reported in SEC filings. Hulu is a privately held company, but they occasionally report paid subscriber numbers on their blog. Although it is not a fair comparison, Netflix and HBO/Cinemax now have more subscribers than Comcast, the largest pay TV provider. However, their ARPU is a fraction of the pay TV providers'.

I plan to regularly publish updates to these charts as more numbers are released and provide some insights into what is going on in the industry. If you'd like access to the raw data I used or have any questions or comments feel free to email me.