Still Hate Your Cable Company? 292,000 Defections Show You're Not Alone

Comcast cableOne thing is becoming clear as cable companies and satellite television providers shell out their latest quarterly financials: Americans are fed up with their ever-growing bills for premium TV.

With the exception of DirecTV's (DTV) -- which gained 67,000 net subscribers during the quarter -- the key players lost more video customers than they signed up.

It's not pretty, but let's look at the net change in U.S. residential video subscribers for the third quarter.
  • DirecTV: +67,000
  • Cablevision (CVC): -10,000
  • Dish Network (DISH): -19,000
  • Charter Communications (CHTR): -73,000
  • Comcast (CMCSA): -117,000
  • Time Warner Cable (TWC): -140,000
Source: The Wall Street Journal.

It's grim. Add up all six players and the cable and satellite TV industries closed out the period with 292,000 fewer customers than they had just three months earlier.

Where Did Everyone Go?

AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) have been gaining ground with their slightly more economical U-verse and FiOS services, respectively, but that doesn't explain the entire shortfall. Folks are either genuinely fed up with their TV bills or they just can't pay up.

Even DirecTV is smarting. Sure, it stands out because it gained ground last quarter, but analysts were expecting net additions of 105,000 for the period. DirecTV suffered the first net decline in its history during the second quarter, and Wall Street figured that it would bounce back in a major way.

It didn't.

Life After the Cables Are Cut

There are plenty of solutions for those ditching their pay TV plans. HD antennas are a cheap way to receive over-the-air local channels, and are growing in popularity. Beyond that, homes with Internet and WiFi can take advantage of a growing number of video services.

Cable and satellite television providers know this. They have been trying to milk more value out of their subscriptions by offering broader arrays on-demand content. The "TV Everywhere" movement -- which allows cable customers to stream the channels they are already paying for through mobile apps at no additional cost -- was initiated by Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

However, customers are getting antsy. They don't appreciate having to pay a growing flat fee for one-size-fits-all baskets of programming that include more channels that they'll never watch than channels they will.

When the pay-TV industry suffered its first quarter of net defections two years ago, some suggested that it was simply a matter of the soft economy. Now that the economy is clawing its way back, it's clear that the industry has a bigger retention problem on its hands.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article.

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November 28 2012 at 11:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Continue your safe online shopping here with massive sales . . .

November 28 2012 at 11:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Cable has never been a good buy....POOR POOR POOR service...

November 19 2012 at 8:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I like DirecTV.

November 17 2012 at 8:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

comcast is union controlled,just a matter of time before there broke.

November 15 2012 at 11:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Whatever happend to the Congressional bill dealing with these companies, that was to make the customer be able to chose what channels they wanted to pay for "ale cart". Oh wait! I am sure our Congress has thwarted that because of big lobbying from these companies (an money for their campaigns).

November 13 2012 at 9:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to buddymaine's comment

So wish they had this!! So tired of having to pay extra to get the channels I want and still not even getting them all because the rest would require an even higher package... and I'm not willing to pay even more :(

November 16 2012 at 8:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree the providers need to wise up. I have one of the smallest packages and it still costs me $54 a month. I watch about 7 of the channels offered and would like about 4 or 5 more that are not offered on my plan. I watch those on internet sources when available. I live in a very rural area so an antennas are not really an option. But i will change to the first company that gives me the option of choosing my non-premiium channels at a more reasonable price. you can keep all the sports channels, porn, hvc type channels, music channels, good grief. I have 150 choices and most of the time there is nothing worth watching!

November 13 2012 at 9:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

My mom has Comcast and I have Verizon Fios. It is true; I enjoy the fiber optic clarity but our bills are almost identically ridiculous. We both have identical bundles that include many channels that are not to our liking. We both pay for a landline phone (even without it the bill is only a few dollars less.) and we both rent set top boxes. Our providers convinced us that without the set top boxes our service wouldn’t be as efficient. I thought about buying a TiVo and ditching the Verizon set top boxes, but I would still have to pay subscriber fees to TiVo every month, w.t.f.

Recently Verizon decided to stick it to its customer and raise prices on the set top boxes and digital adapters. I called Verizon Fios and stated, “I have 4 months on my contract bundle, how it that you’re raising the price is?" My answer: bundle prices haven't been raised but the service equipment isn't under contract and they can raise those prices as needed.

Wow! Is there no way around us getting royally f***ed. I am ditching cable/Fios (same s**t) when my contract is up. I am constantly searching for the answer to our prayers and once it’s all formatted; I will inform the world because we all need to show this monopoly that were not going to take it, anymore!

November 13 2012 at 7:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tara Friendly

Previously had Comcast and theyconstantly raised prices, and worse the system would go down 3 or 4 times a month. Moved to private community that had only Verizon and happy as can be. Its about $30 permonth cheaper and **** always working fine.

November 13 2012 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Matthew McMinn

They are tired of the terrible customer service. Many people I know just drop cable all together because they feel they pay way too much money for that poor quality of service.

Plus, technology is at a point where we should be able to watch anything, anywhere, at any time. For next to nothing.

With cable, you pay a ton of money, to get a ton of channels you dont want - you have to pay extra to get DVR service to watch the 5 shows you DO like, because you either are too busy to watch them at their regular scheduled time, or they are all on at the same time.

Then they try to add on digital phone service... Such a joke! the price they are "offering" is far more expensive than a standard land line use to be pre-deregulation of the state "bell" providers. Yet, it literally costs the cable company NOTHING to offer it.

Plus, Internet, Cable TV & DVR, Home Phone, Wireless & Data plans for your smartphone.... all of these services are intertwined and related. The first company that can offer a TRUE bundle package for all of these, where you ACTUALLY save money, they'll win the war.

The public knows that technology now makes it possible for you to watch anything anywhere at any time. Yet the cable and sat providers dont want to give that to you. So people opt for nothing rather than that.

If a customer could "customize" their cable packages each month, only keeping the individual shows they want, and having the DVR capability to watch them on-demand (like you have with internet content) then customers would come flooding back. Content would probably improve greatly as well.

Instead, you HAVE to buy a package with tons of crap you dont want, you have to pay extra for dvr to watch the tiny sliver you DO like at a time you are available..... and they even charge an extra monthly charge for the remote control for their cable box.

Is it really any wonder people just say "F- that" and drop it? then you add terrible customer service on top of that...

When I called to argue over an increase on my cable bill for the DVR service and remote, the rep on the phone basically laughed at me. They wouldn't haggle over that extra DVR cost, and without DVR cable is worthless to me. With the DVR charges, the price just becomes entirely unreasonable. For the bundle price, I could lease a car. So I told them nevermind, just cancel it all together, and they laughed again saying "well, what are you going to watch then?" I said "I just wont watch TV"

its that mentality of "We don't have to provide good service, fair prices, or technology advancement because you cant live without our product"... Apparently, I and several hundred thousand other people disagree... We can certainly live without it.

November 13 2012 at 2:44 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply