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Dish Network on Monday reported that it lost 133,000 net pay TV subscribers in the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of 194,000 in the year-ago period and a gain of 116,000 in the third quarter of 2020.
The latest quarter’s figure includes subscribers to the traditional Dish pay TV service, as well as the Sling TV streaming service. The company detailed that it added about 16,000 Sling TV subscribers in the latest period, compared with 203,000 in the third quarter. Dish recorded a net decline of 149,000 satellite TV subscribers, compared with a drop of 87,000 in the third quarter.
On the analyst call, Dish chairman Charlie Ergen said Sling TV should have done better taking market share from competitors like YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV and fuboTV. “We should have more market share there. We stumbled a little bit with the quality of the user interface and user experience. Our network was best at the beginning, but we got a little complacent … We have room to improve, that’s for sure, we should have got more market share,” Ergen said in answer to an analyst question about Sling TV.
The company, also led by CEO Erik Carlson, ended December with 11.29 million total subscribers, including 8.82 million Dish TV subscribers and 2.47 million Sling TV subscribers. Ergen during the analyst call argued Sling TV remained a strong business, and to underline the point recalled a fee fight with AT&T as Dish chose to go without HBO over differences on how much should be paid for the premium cable channel.
“They [HBO] had the final season of Game of Thrones coming up. We didn’t lose many customers, because our relationships were strong. They watch Showtime and Starz and Netflix. And HBO lost the revenue stream,” he told analysts.
Fourth-quarter net income reached $733 million, compared with $389 million in the year-ago quarter. Revenue was $4.56 billion compared with the $3.24 billion the company had recorded in the fourth quarter of 2019.
During the fourth quarter, Dish struck a new multiyear carriage agreement with TV station giant Nexstar Media Group, which covered local stations and the WGN America network.
Englewood, Colorado-based Dish last year also pushed into the retail wireless market through the $1.4 billion acquisition of Boost Mobile and is looking to launch a virtualized, stand-alone 5G network in the U.S. market.
Ergen told analysts 2020 was a transition year for Dish as it starts rolling out its 5G mobile phone network and service. “If you could get through the transition, you can really grow your business in a dramatic way,” he added as Dish now executes on its 5G mobile strategy this year after building a first-ever open radio access network (O-RAN) system.
Ergen accepted there were risks in Dish launching its 5G mobile phone network in competition with Chinese rivals like Huawei, but added the company had assembled a strong team to focus on its rollout, which may include bringing a strategic partner on board. “Right now, it’s right to be skeptical about our execution, but we can do it,” he told analysts.
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