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TV providers on track to lose around 5 million subscribers in 2020

Cord cutting slowed in Q3, but 2020 totals already surpass last year's Q1-Q3 numbers.

TV remote

It's still unclear how much the pandemic simply accelerated existing trends and whether some cord-cutters will return to the fold now that sports leagues are playing again.

Photo: Erik McLean/Unsplash

The major pay TV providers saw cord cutting slow in the most recent quarter, with AT&T, Comcast, Dish, Charter and Verizon losing a combined 735,000 subscribers during the three months ending Sept. 30. During Q3 of 2019, the same companies lost almost 1.4 million subscribers.

However, it's not all good news for the pay TV industry: 4,181,000 households canceled pay TV services during the first nine months of 2020, surpassing the 3.8 million cord-cutters the five companies saw during the same time frame last year. This suggests that consumers who were on the fence about ditching cable did so earlier during the pandemic, much in the same way that Netflix saw its biggest subscriber growth during the first two quarters of the year.

What's more, pay TV operators are still granting pandemic-related billing relief to hundreds of thousands of customers who would have been disconnected under normal circumstances, suggesting that we might see a big bump in cord cutting once those grace periods expire.

The biggest change in Q3 was a notable improvement for AT&T. The telco saw its losses shrink from nearly 1.2 million households to 590,000, which is largely due to a massive shedding of subscribers to its internet-based TV Now service last year. Things stayed largely the same for most of the other providers, with Comcast increasing subscriber losses by 33,000 while Verizon lost 6,000 fewer customers.

Two notable winners are Dish and Charter, with the latter adding 53,000 subscribers during the quarter while it lost 77,000 in Q3 of 2019. Dish also grew its subscriber base, albeit at a lower rate than in Q3 of 2019.

The picture changes quite a bit when we zoom out and look at the year to date. During the first nine months of this year, four of the five big pay TV providers lost more subscribers than during the same time last year. AT&T leads in total losses with 2.58 million subscriber defections; Comcast's losses nearly doubled to around 1 million households; Dish faced the biggest decline of the industry; and only Charter managed a notable turnaround.

It's still unclear how much the pandemic simply accelerated existing trends and whether some cord-cutters will return to the fold now that sports leagues are playing again. However, any positive effects from such sports-related cord-pausing is likely outweighed by the continued economic outfall of the pandemic. In Q4 of 2019, the industry's biggest providers lost a whopping 1.54 million pay TV subscribers. Even if the picture continues to improve for AT&T, Charter and others, it's likely that the big five will end 2020 with around 5 million fewer customers.

Protocol | Fintech

Plaid’s COO is riding fintech’s choppy waves

He's a striking presence on the beach. If he navigates Plaid's data challenges, Eric Sager will loom large in the financial world as well.

Plaid COO Eric Sager is an avid surfer.

Photo: Plaid

Eric Sager is an avid surfer. It's a fitting passion for the No. 2 executive at Plaid, a startup that's riding fintech's rough waters — including a rogue wave on the horizon that could cause a wipeout.

As Plaid's chief operating officer, Sager has been helping the startup navigate that choppiness, from an abandoned merger with Visa to a harsh critique by the CEO of a top Wall Street bank.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

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