Dish's 2.2 Million Sling Customers Stem Pay-TV Losses

Updated on
  • Subscriber tally exceeds estimates, tops rivals in online TV
  • Sling’s lower price also pulls revenue below estimates

The SLING TV display booth at the 2017 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 7, 2017.

Photographer: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Dish Network Corp., publicly reporting its Sling TV signups for the first time, said the low-cost alternative to traditional pay TV has attracted 2.2 million customers, marking progress in efforts to slow four years of subscriber losses.

Dish closed out its fourth quarter with an increase of 39,000 pay-TV customers, more than the 30,000 analysts had predicted. Dish had a total of 13.2 million subscribers at the end of 2017, including Sling TV and Dish TV customers, according to a statement Wednesday. That’s about the same as the end of the third quarter.

Rise of Online TV Giants

Dish leads in subscribers to live streaming cable alternatives

Sources: company filings, Bloomberg Intelligence

Dish launched Sling TV three years ago as a $20-a-month alternative for the growing wave of customers who were dumping pay-TV service for lower-priced options like Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as other live online streaming services like AT&T Inc.’s DirecTV Now. Dish’s struggles in the pay-TV business put more focus on how Chairman Charlie Ergen plans to use a massive trove of airwaves to capitalize on the mobile-video revolution.

Dish reported revenue of $3.48 billion in the quarter, falling short of analysts’ estimates for sales of $3.53 billion.

“The majority of Dish’s value lies in its spectrum portfolio, and that the company will eventually find valuable M&A opportunities among traditional carriers and outside participants, though this could take some time,” Phil Cusick, a JPMorgan analyst, wrote in a note Wednesday.

Ergen aims to tap some of the airwaves to build a wireless data network by 2020, when he faces “use-or-lose” penalties that are a condition of the licenses. Dish has been looking for partners or tenants that would be interested in using the network. He is expected to speak to investors on an earnings call that starts Wednesday at noon New York time.

Dish shares fell 1.4 percent to $43.95 at 11:06 a.m. in New York. The stock was down 6.6 percent this year through Tuesday, while the S&P 500 Index was up 1.6 percent.

— With assistance by Kim McLaughlin

(Updates with analyst’s comment in fifth paragraph.)
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