Dish Sheds 334K Pay TV Subs in Q4

Dish Network’s decision to do without key channels from Spanish-language broadcaster Univision and premium channel HBO weighed on the satellite giant’s subscriber rolls for the fourth quarter and full year 2018, with total pay TV losses rising sharply to 334,000 in the quarterly period.

The losses were an about-face from Q4 2017 when the satellite company added 39,000 total customers, mostly on the back of gains at its streaming video service Sling TV. 

For the year, Dish said it lost a total of 1.125 million satellite TV customers in 2018, up from 995,000 in 2017. Gains at Sling TV also fell sharply for the year to 205,000 from an increase of 711,000 in the prior year.

The company closed the fourth quarter with 12.32 million pay-TV subscribers, including 9.9 million Dish satellite TV and 2.42 million Sling TV customers.

Univision has been dark to Dish subscribers since June, with chairman Charlie Ergen stating that the blackout will likely be permanent. In November, Dish reached an impasse with WarnerMedia’s HBO service, causing the premium channel to go dark with a distributor for the first time in its 40-year history. 

In its 10-K annual report, Dish attributed at least some of the heavier losses to the blackouts.

“Our net Pay-TV subscriber losses during the year ended December 31, 2018 were negatively impacted by Univision and AT&T’s removal of certain of their channels from our Dish TV and Sling TV programming lineup,” the 10-K stated. “As a result, we experienced higher net pay-TV subscriber losses beginning in the third quarter 2018 and continuing into the fourth quarter 2018.”

The results come on the heels of a discouraging showing from Dish’s satellite rival AT&T, which saw net subscribers at its DirecTV fall by 391,000 in Q4, while its DirecTV Now streaming service shed 267,000 customers. 

For Dish, the subscriber decline translated into weaker revenue and profit for the quarter and the year. Revenue for Q4 was $3.31 billion down 5% compared to $3.48 billion in the prior year. Net income for the quarter was $337 million, compared to $1.39 billion in Q4 2017, which was positively affected by new tax laws.

For the full year, revenue was down 5.4% to $13.62 billion compared to $14.39 billion in 2017, while net income fell nearly 25% to $1.58 billion from $2.1 billion in 2017. Again, 2017 net income was positively affected by tax reform legislation.