Nielsen Lowers Pay-TV Universe for July by 2.5%

Virtual MVPDs add back some subscribers for many networks

Nielsen has lowered its cable universe estimate for July by 2.5%, according to analyst Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group.

Wieser notes that some of those subscribers are being regained as consumers adopt virtual multichannel video programming distributors like Sling TV or Sony’s PlayStation Vue. Those skinny bundles tend to benefit the biggest cable networks owned by broadcast networks or those with a concentrated network portfolio.

About 1.4 million vMVPD homes are included in what Nielsen calls Total Cable Plus, which was down 1.6%.

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Excluding vMVPDs, the median cable network’s penetration dropped 2.5% year over year.

Among the big network groups, network distribution was down 2% to 4% for Discovery, Disney, NBCU, Scripps Networks, Time Warner and Viacom. Fox was down only 1.1%, while AMC posted a 1% gain.

Excluding the virtual distributors, the networks posting the biggest declines include Time Warner’s Boomerang, Discovery’s Destination America and Family Channel, and Viacom’s CMT and MTV Classic.

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Disney’s ESPN and ESPN2 were both down 3.5%. They are included in the virtual MVPDs, but Wieser doesn’t have good year ago numbers to make a comparison.

Among the networks posting growth were AMC’s SundanceTV and IFC, Fox’s FXX and Discovery’s Velocity.