Dish's 2.2 Million Sling Customers, Finally Revealed, Stem Pay-TV Losses

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Vivek Khemka, executive VP and chief technology officer of Dish Network, speaks during an event at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Vivek Khemka, executive VP and chief technology officer of Dish Network, speaks during an event at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Dish Network, publicly reporting its Sling TV signups for the first time, said the low-cost alternative to traditional pay TV has attracted 2.2 million customers, marking progress in efforts to slow four years of subscriber losses.

Dish closed out its fourth quarter with an increase of 39,000 pay-TV customers, more than the 30,000 analysts had predicted. Dish had a total of 13.2 million subscribers at the end of 2017, including Sling TV and Dish TV customers, according to a statement Wednesday. That's about the same as the end of the third quarter.

Dish introduced Sling TV three years ago as a $20-a-month alternative for the growing wave of customers who were dumping pay-TV service for lower-priced options like Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as other live online streaming services like AT&T's DirecTV Now. Dish's struggles in the pay-TV business put more focus on how Chairman Charlie Ergen plans to use a massive trove of airwaves to capitalize on the mobile-video revolution.

Dish reported revenue of $3.48 billion in the quarter, falling short of analysts' estimates for revenue of $3.53 billion.

"The majority of Dish's value lies in its spectrum portfolio, and that the company will eventually find valuable M&A opportunities among traditional carriers and outside participants, though this could take some time," Phil Cusick, a JPMorgan analyst, wrote in a note Wednesday.

Ergen aims to tap some of the airwaves to build a wireless data network by 2020, when he faces "use-or-lose" penalties that are a condition of the licenses. Dish has been looking for partners or tenants that would be interested in using the network.

-- Bloomberg News

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