Dish’s Michael Kelly Exiting for Second Time After Previously Heading Company’s Short-Lived Blockbuster Video Operations

Dish senior executive Michael Kelly is leaving the satellite TV/cellular operator at the end of the month for the second time — about a year after rejoining the Littleton, Colo.-based subsidiary of EchoStar as EVP of retail wireless.

EchoStar CEO Hamid Akhavan will run the wireless division until a successor is found.

Kelly, who joined Dish in 2000, spearheaded numerous strategic initiatives within sales, advertising, marketing, customer service, in-home services, programming and notably the $320 million acquisition (out of bankruptcy) of Blockbuster Video in 2011.

Dish envisioned using Blockbuster’s nationwide retail footprint to rollout its budding 5G wireless network business. But just two years later Dish shuttered all remaining company-owned Blockbuster stores, with Kelly exiting Dish in 2015.

In 2020, Dish acquired Boost Mobile for $1.4 billion — with more than 9 million subscribers — following the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile. At the end of Dish’s most-recent fiscal period, Boost had around 7.5 million subscribers.

Dish Feb. 22 announced that the Boost Wireless Network is now available with VoNR, or 5G voice, to more than 200 million U.S. consumers nationwide.

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EchoStar Announces Completion of Dish Network Acquisition

EchoStar Corp. has announced the completion of its acquisition of Dish Network Corp. on Dec. 31.

To complete the acquisition, a wholly owned subsidiary of EchoStar merged with and into Dish Network, with Dish Network surviving the merger as a wholly owned subsidiary of EchoStar. As previously announced, as a result of the merger, each share of Dish Network Class A Common Stock and Dish Network Class C Common Stock converted into 0.350877 shares of EchoStar Class A Common Stock, and each share of Dish Network Class B Common Stock converted into 0.350877 shares of EchoStar Class B Common Stock.

The transaction combines Dish Network’s satellite technology, streaming services and nationwide 5G network with EchoStar’s satellite communications solutions. It combines Dish Network’s 5G wireless network, which now covers more than 70% of the U.S. population, and EchoStar’s launch of the Jupiter 3 satellite with significant available capacity for converged terrestrial and non-terrestrial services, according to Echostar.

The combined company is headquartered in Englewood, Colo. The company will market worldwide under several brands, including Boost Mobile, Boost Infinite, Sling TV and DISH TV, as well as EchoStar, Hughes and Jupiter satellite services, HughesON managed services and HughesNet satellite internet.

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“This merger brings us one step closer to our goal of offering ubiquitous connectivity to people, enterprises and things, everywhere,” said Hamid Akhavan, president and CEO of EchoStar, in a statement. “Together we’re better positioned to realize the connected future by leveraging every type of transport, combined with smart, enabling technologies and fully integrated services. Our superior portfolio of technology, spectrum, engineering, manufacturing and network management expertise will deliver the unparalleled connectivity solutions that customers demand.”

“The completion of this merger marks an important milestone for our company and our customers, launching a new era of connectivity,” Charles Ergen, executive chairman of the board of EchoStar, said in a statement. “We have brought together two trailblazing companies with complementary portfolios to create a global connectivity leader with premier wireless, satellite, and video distribution capabilities. Together, EchoStar and DISH offer an enhanced consumer connectivity business and an unmatched enterprise managed services business. In a world that is increasingly wireless, we are well-positioned to drive revenue and profitable growth.”

“Bridging the digital divide and seamlessly connecting people, enterprises, and things is essential in the digital-first economy,” said John Swieringa, President, technology and chief operating officer of EchoStar, said in a statement. “Our combined brands, technology and operational and engineering resources uniquely position EchoStar to provide a compelling global offering that connects consumers to the internet access, mobile phone service, television programming, and streaming content they want, as well as delivering business and government customers the secure terrestrial, non-terrestrial, and hybrid connectivity solutions they need.”

Dish’s Sling TV Loses 234,000 Q1 Streaming Subs, 318,000 Satellite Pay-TV Subs

Subscriber losses keep adding up for satellite TV operator Dish. Net pay-TV subscribers decreased about 552,000 in the first quarter (ended March 31), compared to a decrease of around 462,000 subs in the year-ago quarter. The sub loss included 234,000 fewer Sling TV customers, identical to the 234,000 Sling subs lost in the prior-year period.

Dish closed the quarter with 9.20 million pay-TV subscribers, including 7.10 million satellite subscribers and 2.10 million online TV subscribers. That compared with 10.3 million subs during the prior-year period, which included almost 8 million satellite subs and 2.25 million Sling customers.

Despite creating the online pay-TV market in 2015 with the launch of Sling TV, the platform significantly trails later competitors, including market leader YouTube TV with 5 million subs, and Hulu + Live TV with 4.5 million subs.

“We continue to experience increased competition, including competition from other subscription video on-demand and live-linear OTT service providers,” Dish said in the regulatory filing.

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Dish Lost 152,000 Sling TV Subscribers in 2022

Dish Feb. 23 reported its lost 152,000 Sling TV subscribers in the fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2022, to end the year with 2.334 million subscribers, down from 2.486 million subs at the end of 2021.

The decrease in net Sling subscribers was primarily related to higher churn (subscribers not renewing the service) following seasonal sports activity and lower new subscriber activations.

“We continue to experience increased competition, including competition from other subscription VOD and live-linear, over-the-top video service providers,” Dish said in a statement.

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The Colorado-based satellite pay-TV operator launched Sling in 2015 as a pioneering $20 monthly online pay-TV service — the first platform to offer standalone access to ESPN outside the traditional pay-TV bundle.

Disney-owned Hulu + Live TV leads the online pay-TV market with 4.5 million monthly subscribers, ahead of YouTube TV, Philo, FuboTV and DirecTV Stream, among others.

Dish ended 2022 with 7.416 million legacy satellite subscribers, which was down 805,000 subs from 8.221 million subs at the end of 2021.

Dish CEO Believes Merger With DirecTV Possible After Political Elections

A possible merger between satellite TV operator Dish and DirecTV remains inevitable according to Dish co-founder/CEO Charlie Ergen. Speaking on a Nov. 2 fiscal call, Ergen said M&A activity between the two companies should ratchet up following the midterm elections.

“You’re hesitant to be a political football for somebody to complain about big companies during an election cycle,” Ergen said. “”But that election cycle is over next week.”

Specifically, Ergen believes that post-elections, corporations begin renewing possible M&A strategies with the next political election chatter not occurring for another 15 months.

Charlie Ergen

“If the timing was right [for a Dish/DirecTV] merger, it would be in the near-term rather than the longer term,” he said, adding that the synergies between the two companies remain on the table.

DirecTV is majority owned by AT&T, but operationally controlled by minority owner private investor group TPG Capital (formerly Texas Pacific Group), which acquired the 30% stake (and AT&T TV and U-verse) in 2021 $1.8 billion in cash. AT&T bought DirecTV in 2015 for $48.5 billion.

Both satellite TV operators have been hemorrhaging subscribers for years as consumer sentiment switches transitions toward over-the-top streaming video, including online TV.

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“In a declining industry, taking advantage of synergies is a rational strategy,” Ergen said.

He contends any legal objections to the merger have significantly eroded over time with the degradation of the linear TV business and competition from OTT businesses and proliferation of high-speed internet, or broadband.

“There’s not a home in America that can’t get broadband,” Ergen said, adding that the current pay-TV market remains under siege.

“We’ve seen viewership decline 15 years in a row on the networks and [carriage] retransmissions go up by 1,000%. That’s not sustainable,” he said.

Discovery+ Launching on Sling TV and Dish TV

Discovery+ Aug. 8 launched on Sling TV and will launch on Dish TV Aug. 25, Warner Bros. Discovery and Dish Network announced.

Sling and Dish users can access the streaming service for $4.99 per month, or upgrade to a commercial-free subscription for $6.99 per month. Those looking to add Discovery+ as an a la carte streaming service, or add to their Sling Free account, will get a seven-day free trial of the channel.

Titles available at launch include Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed, “Conjuring Kesha,” “90 Day: The Single Life” and more from the “90 Day” universe, “Fixer Upper: Welcome Home” and “Unprecedented.”

All Sling users, including users of Sling Free or any Sling subscription, may customize their viewing experience by adding Discovery+ as a premium a la carte streaming service. 

“Providing our customers with the best entertainment experience has always been our number one priority at Dish and Sling,” Gary Schanman, group president of Sling TV, said in a statement. “The addition of Discovery+ on our platforms offers iconic and acclaimed content for the a la carte experience our customers love. We offer more than 50 premium a la carte services to enable our users to customize their viewing experience, all with a single account login so they can easily manage their services in one place.”

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“With Discovery+, we are committed to making our world-class content accessible to all of our fans across all platforms, and this partnership with Sling and Dish allows us to deliver on that commitment,” Gabriel Sauerhoff, SVP of digital distribution and commercial partnerships for Warner Bros. Discovery, said in a statement. “We always put our dedicated viewers at the forefront of our decision making, and we’ll continue to do so as we expand the reach of our beloved programming, talent and brands.”

More than 70,000 episodes of current and classic shows are available on Discovery+ from Discovery’s portfolio of networks, including HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, OWN, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and Magnolia Network, along with more than 200 Discovery+ original titles and hundreds of hours of exclusive content. Additionally, the service offers top non-fiction content from A&E, The History Channel and Lifetime, and an expansive offering of nature and environmental programming.

Dish CEO Ergen (Again) Says DirecTV Merger ‘Inevitable’

On the heels of losing nearly 600,000 pay-TV subscribers in 2021, Dish CEO Charlie Ergen again advocated for his satellite TV operator’s business to merge with rival DirecTV Stream. Dish and DirecTV attempted to merge 20 years ago, but federal regulators cited the potential for a monopoly as a reason for their rejection.

But that was before over-the-top video, i.e., Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Disney+, turned the pay-TV ecosystem on its ear. Dish ended 2021 with 8.2 million subscribers, about the same number of subs Dish had operating as EchoStar Communications in 2002. That was down from more than 8.8 million subs at the end of 2020. At its peak, Dish had more than 15 million subs.

Speaking on the Feb. 24 fiscal call, Ergen reiterated his view that a renewed merger with DirecTV makes a lot of sense in today’s pay-TV market.

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“I think it’s inevitable that Dish and DirecTV go together,” Ergen said. “Otherwise, both companies will just melt away, and there’ll be no service for customers. The regulatory reasons to not allow it, don’t exist anymore.”

AT&T, majority owner of DirecTV, a year ago spun off a minority stake/majority control of the business, including AT&T TV and U-verse pay-TV services, to private investment group TPG Capital for $16.25 billion. Merging the two platforms could result in $1 billion in cost savings.

Report: Dish, DirecTV Merger Getting Second Wind

U.S. satellite-based pay-TV operators Dish and DirecTV have oft been the speculation of a merger, with politics and government regulation impeding a deal. But with the satellite TV market continuing to decline due to ongoing consumer migration toward over-the-top video, the competing companies reportedly are keen again to consummate an agreement.

Indeed, DirecTV has seen a 40% drop in subscribers to 15 million from 25 million subs in 2017. Dish ended its most-recent fiscal period with 8.4 million subs — down from almost 9 million subs in the year-ago period.

DirecTV parent AT&T last year spun off a minority stake (and operational control) of the satellite operator, online platform AT&T TV and cable service U-verse to private equity firm TPG Capital for $8 billion. The consolidated companies were then rebranded DirecTV Stream.

“TPG is driving the conversations. They want their investment back,” a source close to the negotiations told The New York Post.

Dish founder/CEO Charlie Ergen has long advocated for a merger of the two companies — albeit on his terms.

“In terms of DirecTV and Dish, I mean obviously I think that those two companies go together, that’s inevitable,” he said on Dish’s most-recent fiscal call.

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Ergen believes that in the current market, regulatory concerns have been minimized due to the continued rollout of broadband nationwide and ongoing competition from programmers themselves launching streaming platforms. In 2020, the DOJ reportedly quashed a merger between DirecTV and Dish, citing 5G’s sputtering rollout nationwide.

The next-generation wireless format is seen as a competitive alternative against any possible satellite TV market control DirecTV and Dish might wield.

“I think it’s a timing issue more than anything else,” said Ergen, who reportedly wants a seat at the head of the table of the merged distributors.

Regardless, with satellite distribution dying in the U.S., a combined DirectTV/Dish unit would be preferred, especially for rural and RV customers dependent on satellite service.

“The FCC and DOJ would likely both conclude that having one strong satellite competitor is better than none at all — and the future is not terribly bright even together, but especially alone,” Craig Moffett, analyst with MoffettNathanson, told The Post.

John Swieringa Named President and COO of Dish Wireless

Dish Network has named John Swieringa president and chief operating officer of Dish Wireless.

In this expanded role, he will be responsible for all operational aspects of Dish’s wireless business including the deployment and management of Dish’s virtualized, O-RAN 5G broadband network. John also will continue to lead Dish’s retail wireless.

“John’s a 14-year veteran of Dish and is committed to changing the way the world communicates with our unique capabilities,” said Charlie Ergen, Dish co-founder and chairman, to whom Swieringa reports. “His experience in our overall business will help to maximize our wireless opportunities within all lines of the business. He and his team will deploy and monetize Dish’s network while advancing our retail, enterprise and wholesale market opportunities.”

“I am excited to lead and further integrate our wireless strategy, deployment and operations efforts,” Swieringa said in a statement. “We have a significant opportunity as we prepare to commercialize our wireless investments and deliver value to our customers, company and shareholders.”

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Swieringa’s direct reports include Stephen Bye, EVP and chief commercial officer; Dave Mayo, EVP of network development; Marc Rouanne, EVP and chief network officer; and Stephen Stokols, EVP of retail wireless.

Dish Adds 117,000 Q3 Sling TV Subs, Down 42% From a Year Ago

Dish Nov. 4 said it added 117,000 Sling TV subscribers in the third quarter (ended Sept. 30). That compared with the addition of approximately 203,000 net Slings subs  during the same period in 2020. The decrease was primarily related to higher subscriber disconnects, partially offset by higher Sling subscriber activations.

“We continue to experience increased competition, including competition from other subscription video on-demand and live-linear OTT service providers,” Dish said in a statement.

Dish, which is transitioning into wireless spectrum, broadband and telecommunications (Boost Mobile) businesses, ended the quarter with 10.9 million total pay-TV subs, including 8.4 million satellite customers and 2.5 million Sling subs. Dish has lost 541,000 pay-TV subs year-over-year.

Regardless, pay-TV revenue increased 9% in the quarter to $3.22 billion, from revenue of $3.19 billion a year ago. Operating income dropped 13% to $699 million, from $803 million in the previous-year period.