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DirecTV and Dish in Terminal Orbit? Their Satellites Are About to Age Out

A communications satellite orbiting Earth
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Forget their declining subscriber bases, DirecTV and Dish Network face an even graver existential threat--their collective fleet of satellites are facing the end of their operational lifespans. 

"Dish launched its last satellite, EchoStar XXIII, more than five years ago," MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a note to investors, published earlier this week. 

"Of their 11 operating satellites, only two are less than a decade old. Each of Dish's satellites has an estimated useful life of about 15 years. In another five and a half years, only one of their 11 satellites will still be inside its estimated useful lifespan," Moffett added. 

Technically, the 5.5 metric-ton communications satellite known as EchoStar XXIII was put into orbit by SpaceX in March of 2017, putting it around five months past its fourth birthday. But Moffett's larger point is taken. 

And the situation is largely the same at the recently spun off DirecTV, where no replacement satellites are planned for launch, either. AT&T, which just completed its spin-off of DirecTV and its other pay TV assets to a joint venture with private equity firm TPG, declared in 2018 that it was done launching and buying satellites.

Both pay TV operators use proprietary set-tops that are incapable of decoding the other's signals, "so a longer life of one fleet wouldn't help the customers of the other," Moffett explains, should Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen's oft-stated prophecy of an imminent DirecTV-Dish merger actually come to fruition. 

"To dwell on whether a given quarter's subscriber losses are a little better, or a little worse, than expected, or than last quarter, is to miss the point," Moffett added. "We are witnessing the long, slow goodby of satellite TV."

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. His reliable mid-range jump shot, deft ambidextrous post-up game and tough interior defense have been criminally overlooked.