Dish Network Reports Worst Subscriber Loss in Its History in Q4

The satellite TV firm posted a 156,000 customer decline for the quarter that saw a programming dispute with News Corp., but its quarterly profit rose 41%.

NEW YORK – Satellite TV provider Dish Network said on Thursday that it lost 156,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter.

Analaysts said this is the worst subscriber loss in the company's history, and its first above the 100,000 mark. It came a day after bigger rival DirecTV posted a better-than-expected 289,000 net customer gain in the U.S. for the period.

Dish lost subscribers as it did in the previous two quarters, but the declines were well above the 29,000 and 19,000 of the preceding quarters and worse than analysts had predicted. Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce said he had projected a 30,000 subscriber decline.

In the fourth quarter, the company had to deal with a temporary blackout of 19 regional sports networks and cable channels FX and National Geographic Channel amid a programming dispute with News Corp. The company didn't immediately detail how big an impact that had.

For the full year 2010, Dish, led by CEO Charlie Ergen, added about 33,000 subscribers. It ended 2010 with 14.13 million subscribers.

Dish on Thursday also reported a quarterly profit gain of 41 percent to $252 million though. Revenue rose 8 percent to $3.21 billion.

In an investor note entitled "The Dark Side of the Moon," Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett compared the results of the two big satellite TV providers. "They are operating in different customer segments - DirecTV high-end and Dish Network low - but they might as well be operating on different planets," he said.