Skip to main content

The numbers won't be good.

TV industry analysts are predicting that cable TV and satellite TV providers will have lost more than 1 million subscribers during the second quarter. Wells Fargo Securities LLC media analyst Marci Ryvicker put the loss at 1.28 million while UBS' John Hodulik forecast a loss of around 1.2 million.

For some context, recall that the pay-TV industry lost 1.6 million subscribers in 2016. In the first quarter, the decline was roughly 795,000 subscribers, according to Leichtman Research Group. A jump above 1.2 million for the second quarter is likely to send shock waves through most media stocks.

We'll have a much better sense of the size and scope of the decline after AT&T Inc. (T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report reports its earnings on Tuesday, July 25, followed two days later by Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report , Charter Communications Inc. (CHTR) - Get Charter Communications, Inc. Class A Report and Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) - Get Verizon Communications Inc. Report .

Until then, Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report earnings call after the closing bell on Monday may offer some early insights into the initial response to YouTube TV, the company's online pay-TV service that went live in April at $35 per month. It's unlikely Google will disclose a subscriber number, but it may offer some helpful insights into how well the service is catching on. 

YouTube TV joined a somewhat crowded field of streaming pay-TV services of which Dish Network Corp.'s (DISH) - Get DISH Network Corporation Class A Report Sling TV has emerged as the leader. Yet unlike SlingTV or AT&T's (T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report DirecTV Now, Google is rolling out YouTube TV slowly, launching only in markets where its secured carriage of its local broadcast affiliates. That may seem counter-intuitive given that YouTube viewers tend to be young and focused in part on social media. What would a young person want from their local NBC or CBS station? 

""When you look at a mainstream mass-market perspective, the biggest thing we see that people want regardless of their demographic is that they want their local channels: local news, weather, local sports," Glenn Hower, senior analyst at Parks Associates, an industry monitoring firm, said in a phone interview. "Sling and DirecTV Now showed that they wanted to get to market first and worry about local content later."

DirecTV Now, which launch in late-October, secured some local-TV affiliates but made a higher priority of launching nationally, and beating to market YouTube TV and Hulu's Live TV service, which began operating in May.

Scroll to Continue

TheStreet Recommends

As such, YouTube TV began in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area and Philadelphia in April, and only recently announced it would expand in the coming weeks in Washington, DC, Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne and Charlotte.

All told, online pay-TV platforms have attracted roughly 2.7 million subscribers, according to a UBS report led by Hodulik. By year's end, UBS predicted that streaming TV services will reach about 4 million and then 7 million at the close of 2018.

Google has crafted an offering that might be termed a hybrid between Sling TV's various "skinny bundles" and DirecTV Now's effort to essentially replicate the traditional pay-TV experience online. YouTube TV's channel lineup consists of 48 networks from the country's largest media companies -- Walt Disney Co. (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report , Comcast's NBCUniversal, Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (FOXA) - Get Fox Corporation Class A Report and CBS Corp. (CBS) - Get CBS Corporation Class B Report -- with one very notable addition: AMC Networks Inc. (AMCX) - Get AMC Networks Inc. Class A Report , home of "The Walking Dead," the most-popular show on television, broadcast or cable.

Conspicuously absent is Time Warner Inc. (TWX) , home of TBS, TNT and CNN. As a result, YouTube TV carries Fox News Channel but not its longtime rival.

It's still a rather bulky offering due to lots of smaller networks from Comcast such as Sprout, Chiller and Syfy. And to carry AMC, it appears that YouTube TV was required to take AMC Networks' WE tv, its reality channel. It's possible that over time, YouTube TV will be able to force network owners to allow them to license only those networks that really have a mass audience.

Yet in just three months, YouTube TV appears to be gaining traction, according to Hodulik. The service was the second-most downloaded app among pay-TV platforms (the leader was Time Warner's HBO Now) analyzed by UBS. Curiously, Hulu LLC's Live TV platform hasn't done particularly well so far, failing to break into the top 1,000 app downloads. AT&T's DirecTV Now appears to be gaining ground after initial service issues prompted the company to pull back on its marketing of the service. More recently, that marketing has returned to launch levels.  

To be sure, there are many forces to blame (or applaud) for the shrinking of the pay-TV universe though the ascent of Netflix Inc. (NFLX) - Get Netflix, Inc. Report is chief among them. Younger consumers, forever tied to their mobile devices, much prefer video-on-demand services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon (AMZN) - Get, Inc. Report Prime Video to traditional appointment TV viewing.

As might be expected, initial traction seems to be directly tied to advertising, and Google has been comparatively aggressive in hawking the service to potentially interested users of YouTube. With more than 1.5 billion monthly users, Google doesn't need a massive uptake for YouTube TV to upset the pay-TV industry.

More of What's Trending on TheStreet: