Personal Finance

March 19, 2014

U.S. pay TV subscriptions fall for the first time as streaming gains

The number of Americans who pay for television through cable, satellite or fiber services fell by more than a quarter of a million in 2013, the first full-year decline in TV customers, research firm SNL Kagan said.
Switching channels

The number of Americans who pay for television through cable, satellite or fiber services fell by more than a quarter of a million in 2013, the first full-year decline in TV customers, research firm SNL Kagan said.

The tally of video subscribers across the entire pay-TV industry, which includes Comcast Corp., DirecTV and Verizon Communications Inc., dropped by 251,000 last year to about 100 million in the U.S., the firm said in a statement Wednesday.

Fewer people are buying traditional television subscriptions as online-streaming services from companies like Netflix Inc. and Inc. offer cheaper alternatives. Though satellite and telecommunications providers continued to gain users, they didn’t add enough to make up for the losses of cable companies.

“While seasonally driven quarterly declines have become routine for industry watchers, the annual dip illustrates longer-term downward pressure even as economic conditions gradually improve,” SNL Kagan said.

Cable lost almost 2 million video subscribers last year, while satellite services added 170,000 customers and phone- company offerings using fiber optics, such as Verizon’s FiOS and AT Inc.’s U-verse, netted 1.6 million.

States probe cable deal

Comcast Corp.’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable Inc. is being probed by a group of states that are joining a federal review of whether the deal violates antitrust laws.

“We are part of a multi-state group reviewing the proposed transaction,” Jenn Meale, a spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, said in a statement.

The states join the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission in reviewing the $45.2 billion deal that would combine the two largest U.S. cable companies. Comcast announced the deal last month.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is also reviewing the deal, according to an e-mailed statement.

Florida and Pennsylvania were also part of a group of states that joined a U.S. lawsuit seeking to block the merger of AMR Corp. and US Airways Group Inc. last year. The companies settled the lawsuit by agreeing to sell slots and gates at different airports.

Better colon cancer test

A novel colon cancer test from Exact Sciences Corp. and the Mayo Clinic using the DNA of specimens that patients collect at home detects more tumors than methods focusing on blood in the stool, a study found.

The research released the New England Journal of Medicine shows the test is about as powerful as a colonoscopy for spotting colon cancer, the third-most common type of tumor. While the disease can be prevented by identifying and removing abnormal growths early, as many as one-third of Americans haven’t taken the recommended screening to find them.

The test called Cologuard scans for traces of tumor DNA, genetic mutations and blood in a stool sample. It detected 92 percent of cancers and 42 percent of advanced precancerous growths, significantly more than an older test that looks only for blood in the stool. False positives occurred in more patients, about 13 percent, with Cologuard, leading them to undergo a colonoscopy that turned up no signs of cancer.

“It really is a more sensitive noninvasive screening test for colon cancer,” said Thomas Imperiale, a study author and professor of medicine at Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. “It’s ready to be used right now, or very soon once it becomes widely available, but we also need additional data.”

Doubt on gasoline substitute

Backers of using methanol from natural gas as a substitute for gasoline got a chilly reception from a federal official who said he is skeptical the fuel will gain widespread adoption for use in cars and trucks.

Industry representatives face obstacles promoting methanol as a way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and boost engine performance, Patrick Davis, director of the Energy Department’s Vehicles Technologies Office, said in Washington.

“There’s a lot of choices out there and they’re all vying for a fairly limited market,” Davis said at an industry event. “It is going to be a fight for any fuel to succeed.”

Using the fuel would reduce reliance on imported oil and offer a hedge against oil-price shocks that raise gasoline prices, said John Hofmeister, founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy and president of Shell Oil Co., the U.S. unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, from 2005 to 2008. He also is a member of the United States Energy Security Council, which sponsored yesterday’s event.

Globally, about 40 percent of methanol is used by energy companies, said John Floren, chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Methanex Corp., the world’s largest supplier. The company is dismantling two plants in Chile and plans to reassemble them in Louisiana.

“We expect a lot of new plants to be built here in the U.S.,” Floren said.

New coin of the realm

After 30 years of work, the Britain’s pound coin is ready for a makeover.

The Royal Mint announced plans Wednesday to replace the weighty flat piece with a 12-sided coin made with two separate metals. It resembles a “threepenny bit” – a coin that circulated in Britain from 1937-1971.

British officials say the new coin will be harder to fake – as many as 45 million, or 3 percent, of the pound coins now in circulation are said to be counterfeit.

The new coin, which will circulate beginning in 2017, will feature a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II or whoever the monarch is at the time.

Royal Mint chief executive Adam Lawrence says the goal is to “produce a pioneering new coin” that will boost confidence and cut fraud.

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