Dish Loses 259,000 Subscribers in First Quarter Amid Disputes, Competition

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Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen

The company lost 266,000 traditional satellite TV customers and added only 7,000 Sling TV subscribers amid carriage disputes and increased competition.

Dish Network on Friday said it lost 259,000 net TV subscribers in the first quarter amid recent carriage disputes with HBO and Univision as a 7,000 gain at streaming service Sling TV, down from 91,000 in the year-ago period, couldn't make up for a bigger decline of 266,000 in traditional satellite TV subscribers.

"The increase in net pay TV subscriber losses during the three months ended March 31, 2019 resulted from fewer net Sling TV subscriber additions and higher net Dish TV subscriber losses," the company said in a regulatory filing. "Our net pay TV subscriber losses ...  were negatively impacted by Univision and AT&T’s removal of certain of their channels from our Dish TV and Sling TV programming lineup." In the first quarter of 2018, Dish had lost 185,000 traditional customers.

It added that the weaker net Sling TV subscriber growth "is primarily related to increased competition, including competition from other OTT service providers, and the impact from Univision and AT&T’s removal of certain of their channels from our programming lineup."

Dish ended March with more than 12.06 million subscribers, including nearly 9.64 million Dish subscribers, down from 9.90 million as of the end of 2018, and more than 2.42 million Sling subscribers, up slightly.

Dish had lost 334,000 net subscribers in the fourth quarter after dropping 341,000 in the third. In the first quarter of 2018, Dish had lost 94,000 net pay TV subscribers.

Univision and Dish at the end of March settled their long-running carriage dispute that started when talks hit an impasse in June 2018. The deal led to the restoring of the Univision network, UniMas, Univision Deportes Network, Galavisión, Tlnovelas and FOROtv for Dish and DishLatino customers.

Earnings of $340 million, or 65 cents per share, for the first quarter were down from $368 million, or 70 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

AT&T recently reported earnings, including for its entertainment arm WarnerMedia, which said premium TV brand HBO's operating income rose 6.0 percent in the first quarter despite the carriage dispute with Dish. Subscription revenue and subscribers were "unfavorably impacted" by the dispute, but revenue was helped by "higher domestic rates and digital and international growth," the company said.

More to come.