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Ergen: ‘We Stumbled’ With Sling TV

Virtual pay TV service Sling TV added 16,000 customers in the fourth quarter, well off the 175,000 subscribers it gained in the final quarter of 2019. 

Charlie Ergen

Sling TV ended the year with a net loss of 118,000 subscribers. It finished 2020, its sixth year in business, with 2.474 million subscribers. 

The slow final three months came before Sling TV upped the monthly price of its two base tiers by $5 to $35 a month. 

It also came amid an overall slow quarter for the so-called vMVPDs. The market leader, Hulu Plus Live TV, lost around 100,000 paid users. Google didn’t break out fourth quarter subscriber growth for YouTube TV. But the 3 million figure touted last week by YouTube product manager Neal Mohan was flat with figures the company reported back in October. 

During the Dish Networks fourth-quarter earnings call Monday, company president and CEO Erik Carlson said Sling TV remains in a “unique position” to serve as a “complementary” service relative to the major SVODs currently flooding the market. 

However, as the oldest vMVPD, Sling TV “should have more market share” among virtual pay TV providers, Dish chairman Charlie Ergen conceded. 

“We stumbled a little there with the quality of the user experience,” Ergen said. “Our network was the best and the first, but we got a little complacent.”

Ergen added that work is being done on Sling TV’s UI, changes that should start surfacing in the first half of 2021.

“We have room to improve,” he said. 

Also Read: Dish Wireless Moves Forward (Blog)

The slow Sling quarter came as Dish lost another 149,000 satellite TV customers. For the year, Dish lost 526,000 total pay TV subscribers. Carlson attributed at least some of the sustained satellite erosion to the dynamics of the pandemic. For instance, 250,000 Dish commercial accounts were put on pause last year, with customers like hotel chains temporarily shutting down. Around 80,000 of these customers eventually restored service, 69,000 disconnected and the fate of around 100,000 more is still undetermined. Notably, those commercial accounts didn’t factor into the 526,000 figure.

Despite the customer losses, pay TV revenue held largely flat, up 0.7%, for 2020. 

In what Ergen referred to as a “transformational” year for Dish — during which it paid $1.4 billion to buy Boost Mobile, among other wireless moves — the company said that it’s wireless segment contributed nearly $2.6 billion in consolidated revenue in Q4, up 21% year over year.