Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 8:01 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Last Friday, Leichtman Research Group released is quarterly roundup of broadband subscription growth sorted by major cable operators and telcos. LRG, run by my former colleague and friend Bruce Leichtman, has long been the bible for many in the industry for tracking broadband subscriber growth. LRG's numbers continue to demonstrate why broadband video has become such an exciting new distribution medium while adding context to Comcast's and Time Warner's recent moves to begin making online access to cable programming available to their subs.
To highlight a few key numbers, at the end of '08 the top broadband ISPs had 67.7 million subscribers, with top cable operators accounting for about 54.5% and top telcos the remainder. Top cable operators continue to maintain their edge in subscriber acquisition as well, grabbing 59% of all new broadband subs in '08.
And no surprise to anyone, with the rising penetration levels, the annual increases in total new subs have continued to slow: in '06 top cable and telco ISPs added 10.4M subs, in '07, 8.5M subs and in '08, 5.4M subs. Still, in the teeth of harsh economic downturn in Q4 '08, these ISPs were still able to add over 1M subs, growth that contracting industries like autos, retail and home-building would no doubt have killed for.
Broadband has long since become a utility for many American homes, a service that is as much expected as essentials like electricity and plumbing. A key reason broadband video is enjoying the success it is owes to the fact that broadband subscriptions have been driven for other reasons (e.g. faster email access, music downloads, always-on connectivity) over the years. Video has only recently become an additional and highly-valued benefit, which broadband ISPs now expect will drive interest in faster (and more expensive) broadband service plans.
Broadband's importance to the cable industry is demonstrated by the chart below showing #1 cable operator Comcast's performance over the last 2 years, which I originally posted on last November ("Comcast: A Company Transformed).
Note the company has now lost basic cable subscribers for 7 straight quarters, even as it continues to add digital video subs and broadband subs (and voice subs) at a healthy clip. I expect these trend lines will continue in their current pattern. No doubt this is the kind of picture that has helped spur Comcast (and #2 operator Time Warner Cable) to begin planning online distribution of cable programming, a feature that I believe will provide highly popular. Operators are in a tremendous position to capitalize on the shifting interests of their subscribers.
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