DBS Operators Maintain Solid Growth


Summer may be over, but the hot streak races on fordirect-broadcast satellite sales, as both DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.reported continued growth in new subscriber numbers last week.

The DBS duopoly touted aggressive customer-acquisitionoffers in September, with DirecTV playing on the strength of its exclusive "NFLSunday Ticket" out-of-market National Football League package and EchoStar offeringdeep discounts on its new "DISHPlayer" satellite receiver with built-in WebTVNetworks system.

DirecTV boasted 160,000 net new high-power customers lastmonth, plus an additional 77,000 high-power customers transitioned from its PrimeStar byDirecTV medium-power service.

The strong installation numbers may put to rest concernsover DirecTV equipment shortages that had surfaced in recent months.

The company's subscriber growth -- not counting thePrimeStar acquisition or conversions -- is up 44 percent for the year compared with thefirst nine months of 1998. DirecTV's high-power subscriber base totaled 7.76 million atthe end of September.

EchoStar picked up 132,000 net new customers last month forits Dish Network service. It also reached the 3 million-customer milestone, after adding 1million subscribers in the first nine months of the year.

Following news of its September gains, EchoStar's stock hitrecord highs last Thursday morning, shooting past $100 per share. Factoring in a 2-for-1stock split earlier this year, that's more than 10 times the value of the stock just oneyear ago.

EchoStar also said last Thursday that it plans another2-for-1 split for any shares of its common stock that are held at the close of businessnext Monday (Oct. 18). The changes are planned to go into effect Oct. 26.

In other good news for the company, EchoStar reported lastWednesday that its fifth DBS satellite has reached its final orbit at the 110 degrees westlongitude orbital location. The new bird will be used for the company's "DishLatino" Spanish-language package, select local-to-local channels and otherprogramming to be added later.

DirecTV was scheduled to launch its DirecTV 1-R replacementsatellite from a site in the Pacific Ocean late Sunday (Oct. 10). The new, higher-powersatellite will give it increased channel capacity at its core 101 degrees orbital slot,which would allow the company to add roughly 80 local broadcast channels, givenlegislative approval. Following the successful launch of the new satellite, DirecTV willrelocate its original satellite from 101 degrees to 110 degrees.

Both DirecTV and EchoStar will need to coordinate equipmentupgrades for subscribers who wish to access programming from more than one orbitallocation.

Wall Street analysts speaking at the SkyFORUM satelliteconference in New York last month predicted that favorable local-to-local legislationcould significantly boost DBS sales next year.