AT&T leads pay TV providers in Q4 subscriber growth

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Adding 208,000 subscribers to its U-verse TV subscriber base, AT&T (NYSE: T) was the hottest multichannel video distributor in the fourth quarter. And with fellow telco Verizon (NYSE: VZ) halting new construction for its FiOS network and efforts to obtain cable franchises in new communities, AT&T will likely continue to grow its subscriber base at a faster rate than Verizon and other telcos.

Verizon picked up 194,000 new FiOS TV subscribers in the fourth quarter, and now counts 4.8 million cable customers. It still leads AT&T, which has 3.8 million U-verse homes.

The telcos topped satellite TV providers DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) and Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH) in Q4 subscriber growth, with DirecTV adding 125,000 net new subscribers and Dish signing 22,000 customers. While DirecTV subscriber growth slowed compared to the third quarter, when it added 328,000 customers, Dish improved after losing 110,000 subscribers during Q3.

For incumbent cable MSOs, which face competition in most markets from cable overbuilders in addition to two satellite rivals, the key focus is on subscriber retention, and finding ways to lose fewer subscribers than previous quarters. Most MSOs reported improved basic video subscriber losses, and significant gains in high-speed Internet customers.

Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) lost just 17,000 basic cable subscribers, and Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) dropped 14,000 subscribers. Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) lost 129,000 basic subscribers in Q4, and Charter Communications (Nasdaq: CHTR) lost 45,000 video customers.

Special Report: Sizing up the cable industry in Q4 2011

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