The outlook doesn't look good.
Subscribers are abandoning pay-TV at a fast rate than ever before, media analyst firm MoffettNathanson reported on Wednesday, sending stocks in the sector tumbling. An estimated 762,000 subscribers terminated their cable or satellite TV service in the first quarter, five times higher than during the same period a year ago. The annualized subscriber decline of 2.4% was the largest ever.
"With most of the data now in, early returns suggest a litany of worst-evers," MoffettNathanson said.
Adding to fears that older media conglomerates are in slow decline, Time Warner (TWX) on Wednesday reported a first-quarter drop in ad-sales even as the company's programming was bolstered by an enviable selection of games from the NCAA college basketball tournament. Ad-sales slipped 2% in the quarter at the owner of TBS, TNT and CNN.
The precipitous decline to start the year comes after 1.7 million consumers cut the cord, to use industry jargon, on pay-TV in 2016, both MoffettNathanson and industry consulting firm SNL Kagan reported earlier this year.
The ominous trajectory cast a cloud Wednesday over media stocks as Viacom (VIAB) and AMC Networks (AMCX) (down 7% and 6.1%, respectively) as well as Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI) (5%) and Discovery Communications (DISCA) (4.7%). All four companies are widely viewed as particularly vulnerable to the fraying of the traditional cable TV bundle given that none of them own a broadcast network or rights to televise major sports. Live sports remains one of the few events that is rarely time-shifted.
For those reasons, all four have struggled to win a place on all of the new online pay-TV platforms that have launched in recent months. Networks from AMC, Viacom and Discovery weren't included in Hulu's new live TV service that began operating on Wednesday. Scripps' networks, which include HGTV and Food Network, are a part of Hulu's multichannel streaming service.