Dish Lost Record 413,000 Q1 Pay-TV Subs; Sling TV Down Too

Citing the ongoing coronavirus health care crisis, Dish Network May 7 said it lost a record 413,000 pay-TV subscribers in the first quarter (ended March 31). That included 250,000 commercial accounts the satellite TV operator suspended due to a lack of sports programming and shuttered retail establishments. Dish lost 259,000 pay-TV subs in the previous-year quarter.

Meanwhile, Dish’s pioneering online TV platform, Sling TV, ended the quarter with 2.31 million subs — down from 2.42 million subs during the previous-year period. The company closed the quarter with 11.32 million pay-TV subs, including 9.01 million Dish subs.

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Net income attributable to Dish Network totaled $73 million for the quarter, compared with $340 million from the year-ago period.

“We have faced, and could continue to face, fewer subscriber activations and increased subscriber churn rate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worsening of the global business and economic environment,” Dish said in a statement.

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The distributor said the pandemic caused “severe disruption” in certain commercial segments, including the hospitality and airline industries — both virtually shut down since March.

CEO Charlie Ergen has called for a refund from Disney-owned ESPN due to a lack of live-sports programming, among other grievances.

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Sling TV Offering Free Service During Coronavirus Crisis

Sling TV March 18 announced a new promotion to provide consumers without a subscription free access to select news and entertainment content as the nation confronts the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Launched in 2015 by Dish Network, Sling TV was the first standalone online TV platform featuring premium channel ESPN and marketed as an alternative to the traditional pay-TV bundle and SVOD.

“To stay informed in these uncertain times, Americans need access to news from reputable sources,” Warren Schlichting, group president, Sling TV, said in a statement. “With many Americans finding themselves staying at home, we have an opportunity to use our platform to help them deal with this rapidly evolving situation.”

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Free access includes ad-supported movies and shows suitable for kids and families, in addition to ABC News Live, a 24/7 streaming video news channel for breaking news and live events. Access is available through an app download on a Roku, Amazon or Android device, or by visiting sling.com on a Chrome, Safari or Edge browser and following the instructions on the welcome screen.

Current Sling TV subscribers can access free content within the user interface on any supported device, without changing their service plan.

Dish is also offering the Sling Blue service plan for $20 the first month (a $10 discount). In addition to free content, Sling streams channels, including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, through its base services, Sling Orange and Sling Blue, starting at $30 per month.

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AT&T Keeping DirecTV Cards Close to Vest

Dish Network’s Charlie Ergen may think it’s “inevitable” about a satellite TV merger with AT&T’s DirecTV, but AT&T COO John Stankey is keeping his cards close to the vest.

Speaking March 3 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, Stankey appeared open to industry consolidation while underscoring the strength of satellite TV’s rural customers.

Characterizing any merger as “a little problematic” due to regulatory issues, Stankey reiterated that the $48.5 billion acquisition of El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV in 2015 was always about securing video customers for future distribution technology, i.e. over-the-top video and high=speed Internet.

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“We will continue to offer satellite and DirecTV where it has a rightful place in the market, places where cable broadband is not prevalent, oftentimes, more rural or less dense suburban areas,” Stankey said. “We’ll continue to offer it for customers on a stand-alone basis, who find its superior content offering to be something that they wish to have.”

AT&T’s WarnerMedia Entertainment is about to launch subscription service HBO Max in May, while just-released AT&T TV (formerly DirecTV Now) bowed March 2.

“We’re really pleased with what we saw [with AT&T TV] … that we would be able to replicate how customers were receiving the product in the other markets that we would enter where we own facilities and are able to pair video with broadband,” Stankey said.

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Regardless, at the time of the 2015 acquisition, AT&T U-verse and DirecTV had a combined 26 million customers in the United States and more than 19 million customers in Latin America, including Mexico and the Caribbean.

Flash-forward to the end of 2019 and AT&T had 19.5 million domestic pay-TV subscribers, with another 13.3 million in Latin America. That’s a decline of 25% and 30%, respectively.

Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett contends regulatory issues shouldn’t be a problem for DirecTV and Dish as they were in 2002 when the Justice Department sued to block a deal, saying the merger would stifle competition and hurt consumers.

“Satellite TV was growing by leaps and bounds at the time. Now it is in free fall. That alone may be enough to settle the debate; sure, two would be better than one, but both are credible bankruptcy risks on their own. Heck, they’d be a credible bankruptcy risk even together,” Moffett wrote in Sept. 30, 2019 note.

He contends a merger argument could best be presented to regulators as an act of preserving pay-TV for rural Americans without access to high-speed Internet.

“[That] would be a reasonably persuasive one,” Moffet wrote.

 

AMC Networks Inks Expanded Deal With Dish/Sling TV

A day before it announces fourth-quarter fiscal results, AMC Networks Feb. 25 unveiled a new long-term distribution agreement with Dish Network and Sling TV that includes continued carriage of AMC Networks’ linear channels AMC, BBC America, IFC, SundanceTV, WE tv and BBC World News, as well as the launch in the coming months of AMC Networks’ SVOD services Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and Urban Movie Channel (“UMC”); AMC Networks’ ad-free offering AMC Premiere; and its IFC Films Unlimited streaming service.

Acorn TV, acquired through AMC Networks’ majority purchase of home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment, streams British-centric programming to more than one million paid subscribers in the U.S. and Canada.

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Shudder streams original and licensed horror and suspense content, including original series, “Creepshow,” and documentary, “Horror Noire.”

Sundance Now streams original and exclusive series from true crime to dramas and thrillers from around the world, including “Discovery of Witches,” “Riviera” and “Killing for Love.”

UMC (Urban Movie Channel) also came with the RLJE acquisition as the first subscription streaming service created for African American audiences, featuring original series, network TV shows, classic sitcoms, and feature films.

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AMC Premiere is an ad-supported VOD platform streaming current seasons of series from AMC, BBC America, IFC and SundanceTV, including “Killing Eve,” “Better Call Saul,” and “The Walking Dead,” with extras, including bonus footage, sneak peeks of future episodes and behind-the-scenes features.

IFC Films Unlimited is a streaming channel featuring a collection of theatrically-released and award-winning indie titles from IFC Films.

“Much like our linear channels, our ad-free services provide passionate audiences with exceptional content and new ways to innovate with valued distribution partners like Dish as our businesses evolve together,” Josh Reader, president of distribution and development for AMC Networks, said in a statement.

 

Charlie Ergen: Dish Network, DirecTV Merger ‘Probably Inevitable’

With Dish Network and DirecTV losing nearly 4 million combined linear TV subscribers in 2019, it seems just a matter of time before the two satellite TV operators combine operations.

That’s the sentiment coming from Dish CEO Charlie Ergen who is aggressively transitioning his company into a wireless telecommunications provider featuring a nationwide 5G network.

Speaking on the Feb. 19 fiscal call, Ergen said is “probably inevitable” Dish and DirecTV would merge due to ongoing consumer migration away from linear television.

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“Growth in TV is not coming from linear satellite TV providers,” Ergen said.

Indeed, it’s not. DirecTV and AT&T U-verse lost 945,000 subs in the fourth quarter, while Dish lost 194,000, which was an improvement from 338,000 subs lost in the fourth quarter 2018.

Ergen said industry growth is being driven by “huge programmers and trillion-dollar companies” putting immense resources into streaming video. The executive contends over-the-top video has become so pervasive that regulatory issues regarding a possible merger between Dish and DirecTV would be minimal.

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“Obviously there still could be regulatory issues there. And we’ll have to see how that all develops, but [a merger] to me seems, and maybe each company only has two subscribers when you put them together, but eventually those two are probably going to, that’s going to make some sense,” Ergen said. “Because you can’t swim upstream against a real tide of big OTT players.”

While AT&T has 3 million fewer pay-TV subs since acquiring DirecTV in 2015, COO John Stankey contends the pay-TV operator — via high-speed Internet service — is integral to the successful launch of HBO Max.

Stankey has suggested DirecTV suffers competitively by not being able to bundle high-speed Internet to consumers as Comcast does.

“Where we’ve built better broadband, the [pay-TV] business is performing just fine,” he said late last year.

 

Sling TV Lost 94,000 Subs in Q4

Dish Network Feb. 19 disclosed that its online TV platform — Sling TV — lost 94,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, ended Dec. 31, 2019. That compared to a gain of 47,000 subs in the previous-year period. It was the online TV platform’s first subscriber loss ever.

Sling TV, which ushered in the standalone online pay-TV market in 2015, ended the fiscal period with 2.59 million subs, up from 2.42 million subs a year ago. At the same time, online TV continues to stagnate as an antidote to subscription video-on-demand and ad-supported VOD.

High-profile YouTube TV just topped 2 million subs, while Disney-owned Hulu with Live TV recently surpassed Sling with 2.7 million subs. Sony’s PlayStation Vue shuttered with reportedly about 500,000 subs.

Meanwhile, Dish’s legacy satellite TV operations finished the year with almost 9.4 million subs — down more than 500,000 subs from the end of 2018. For the quarter, Dish lost a combined 194,000 subs when combined with Sling. That was a significant improvement from the 334,000 combined subs lost in the previous-year quarter.

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Regardless, 2020 finds Dish focusing on a new business: a nationwide 5G wireless network. As part of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, Dish established an agreement with the Department of Justice mandating it would provide nationwide 5G wireless coverage from 20% to 70% of the country’s population based on each of four spectrum bands.

Since 2008, Dish says it has invested more than $11 billion acquiring wireless spectrum licenses and related assets. These licenses are subject to certain interim and final build-out requirements, as well as renewal requirements with the federal government.

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Judge Approves $26 Billion Sprint, T-Mobile Merger

A U.S. District Court Judge Feb. 11 approved the $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint — paving the way for an empowered telecommunications partnership that includes Dish Network and is aimed at competing against AT&T and Verizon.

The deal, which was approved by the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission, still requires a formal greenlight from the California Public Utilities Commission.

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U.S. Judge Victor Marrero, in his ruling, denied claims by several State Attorney Generals that the merger of the No. 3 and No. 4 wireless carriers would stifle competition and raise consumer rates, among other issues.

In addition, the Marrero dismissed concerns Dish Network wouldn’t be able to enter the market successfully as a wireless carrier. As part of the Sprint, T-Mobile deal, Dish agreed to acquire Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile and other prepaid phone businesses for $5 billion.

Dish, which operates a satellite TV distribution business, has been looking to diversify its business, including launching online TV platform Sling TV.

“The resulting stalemate leaves the court lacking sufficiently impartial and objective ground on which to rely in basing a sound forecast of the likely competitive effects of a merger,” Marrero wrote in support of the deal.

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As part of the transaction, Sprint and T-Mobile said they would deploy a 5G nationwide network within three years of closing the deal.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has opposed the merger, said the deal thwarts consumer rights and fair pricing.

“We’ll stand on the side of competition over megamergers, every time,” Becerra said. “And our coalition is prepared to fight as long as necessary to protect innovation and competitive costs.”

YouTube TV Tops 2 Million Subscribers

High-profile marketing around the World Series and Super Bowl is apparently paying off for Google’s proprietary online TV service, YouTube TV.

Google announced that the online TV service now has more than 2 million subscribers since launching in 2016. The tally puts the platform just behind Dish Network’s pioneering Sling TV with 2.68 million subs and Hulu with Live TV, reportedly at 2.7 million subs.

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YouTube (excluding $1.2 billion in ad-revenue from YouTube TV) generated more than $15 billion in advertising revenue in 2019 — up from $11 billion in 2018.

The tallies pale in comparison to overall revenue for Google parent Alphabet Inc.

“In 2019 we again delivered strong revenue growth, with revenue of $162 billion, up 18% year over year and up 20% on a constant currency basis,” CFO Ruth Porat said in a statement.

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Sling TV Granted Technology & Engineering Emmy Award

The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Jan. 15 awarded Sling TV a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award for its work developing and launching the nation’s first live over-the-top television service.

A pioneer in adaptive bit rate streaming, Dish Network launched Sling TV on Feb. 9, 2015 as the first streaming service to deliver live television over-the-top. Sling, which ended the most-recent fiscal period with 2.66 million subscribers, offers a wide range of free programming in addition to a full lineup of live news, sports and entertainment channels, including Fox News, CNN, ESPN and HGTV, as well as Cloud DVR capabilities.

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The market now includes AT&T TV Now, Philo TV, YouTube TV, fuboTV, Spectrum TV Plus, Hulu with Live TV and Vidgo.

Sling TV’s premium service is available for a monthly subscription on a variety of smart televisions, tablets, game consoles, computers, smartphones, virtual reality headsets and streaming devices.

In addition to offering live television, Sling offers users access to a suite of free content, à la carte channels and services, transactional live events and movies on-demand, without requiring a base subscription.

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“Our journey over the past five years has been about the customer, offering exceptional value with unprecedented flexibility. In short, making TV better for everyone,” Warren Schlichting, EVP and group president, Sling TV, said in a statement. “[Dish] has a history of fostering innovation and disrupting the industry, and Sling’s leadership in live streaming TV is another example of our culture.”

Sling TV will receive the Technology & Engineering Emmy Award in the category of “Pioneering Development of Large Scale, Cloud Served, Broadcast Quality, Linear Channel Transmission” at the 71st annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards on April 19 at the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference in Las Vegas.

 

Sling TV Raises Subscription Pricing 25%

Online TV pioneer Sling TV Dec. 23 raised subscription pricing 20% to 25% depending on the monthly service plan. It is the second price increase by Dish Network since it launched Sling in 2015, priced at $20 monthly.

Sling Orange and Sling Blue are now priced at $30, with a Sling Orange/Blue combo offered at $45/month (from $40/month). The TV add-on also increased by $5 to $25. Add-on packages include premium movie, sports and TV programming.

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Notably, Sling TV — which tallied more than 2.6 million subs at the end of Q3 — was the first online service to offer standalone access to ESPN following Dish’s landmark carriage agreement with Disney. Now Sling is offering DVR functionality (up to 10 hours) for ESPN and other content channels, which includes the ability to skip commercials during playback.

“Sling customers have been clear: they want more live news and sports, and they want a cloud DVR included at purchase — and we listened,” Warren Schlichting, EVP/group president, Sling TV, said in a statement. “Over the past five years, we have proven our dedication to making Sling an exceptional value with unmatched flexibility. These announcements today are further proof points that Sling is the premier live streaming service.”

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Other changes include Sling TV adding Fox News, MSNBC and CNN’s HLN to Sling Blue base service. Fox Business Network launching into Sling Blue News Extra.

Big Ten Network (BTN) will launch on Sling TV ahead of the 2020-21 college football season. FXM will launch into Sling Blue Hollywood Extra, which will also add FXX, including the linear feed.

Nat Geo Wild is joining Sling Blue Heartland Extra, including the linear feed.

Sling Orange recently launched Longhorn Network and ACC Network to the service’s Sports Extra, as well as the ability to record Disney and ESPN channels with Sling TV’s Cloud DVR.