Summer may be over, but the hot streak races on for
direct-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-acquisition
offers in September, with DirecTV playing on the strength of its exclusive "NFL
Sunday Ticket" out-of-market National Football League package and EchoStar offering
deep discounts on its new "DISHPlayer" satellite receiver with built-in WebTV
DirecTV boasted 160,000 net new high-power customers last
month, plus an additional 77,000 high-power customers transitioned from its PrimeStar by
DirecTV medium-power service.
The strong installation numbers may put to rest concerns
over DirecTV equipment shortages that had surfaced in recent months.
The company's subscriber growth -- not counting the
PrimeStar acquisition or conversions -- is up 44 percent for the year compared with the
first nine months of 1998. DirecTV's high-power subscriber base totaled 7.76 million at
the end of September.
EchoStar picked up 132,000 net new customers last month for
its Dish Network service. It also reached the 3 million-customer milestone, after adding 1
million subscribers in the first nine months of the year.
Following news of its September gains, EchoStar's stock hit
record highs last Thursday morning, shooting past $100 per share. Factoring in a 2-for-1
stock split earlier this year, that's more than 10 times the value of the stock just one
EchoStar also said last Thursday that it plans another
2-for-1 split for any shares of its common stock that are held at the close of business
next Monday (Oct. 18). The changes are planned to go into effect Oct. 26.
In other good news for the company, EchoStar reported last
Wednesday that its fifth DBS satellite has reached its final orbit at the 110 degrees west
longitude orbital location. The new bird will be used for the company's "Dish
Latino" Spanish-language package, select local-to-local channels and other
programming to be added later.
DirecTV was scheduled to launch its DirecTV 1-R replacement
satellite from a site in the Pacific Ocean late Sunday (Oct. 10). The new, higher-power
satellite 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, given
legislative approval. Following the successful launch of the new satellite, DirecTV will
relocate its original satellite from 101 degrees to 110 degrees.
Both DirecTV and EchoStar will need to coordinate equipment
upgrades for subscribers who wish to access programming from more than one orbital
Wall Street analysts speaking at the SkyFORUM satellite
conference in New York last month predicted that favorable local-to-local legislation
could significantly boost DBS sales next year.