Direct-broadcast satellite saw another strong month in
March, totaling 175,000 new U.S. subscribers industrywide.
According to SkyTrends, which tracks DBS subscriber
numbers, DirecTv signed up 75,000 new customers, putting its total above 3.5 million.
PrimeStar Inc. (which was still PrimeStar Partners L.P. last month) added 43,000
customers; the company reached the 2 million-subscriber mark earlier this year. EchoStar
Communication Corp.'s Dish Network acquired 57,000 new subscribers, pushing its total
past 1.2 million.
National retailers saw such strong demand for DBS systems
that some had trouble keeping the product in stock.
Best Buy spokeswoman Laurie Bauer said customer demand for
the Digital Satellite System had doubled recently. The retailer stopped advertising DSS
last month when it had difficulty keeping up with demand.
Chuck Cebuhar, vice president and general manager for Sears
Roebuck & Co., said, "We're still chasing availability on some RCA [DSS]
product," adding that sales of EchoStar systems have been strong, too.
"We see no reason why the growth shouldn't
continue," said Chuck Hewitt, president of the Satellite Broadcasting and
There are even signs that Wall Street may start to look
favorably on DBS stocks again.
"The main thing people have to understand about DBS is
sales are not slowing down," said Bob Berzins, senior vice president of high-yield
research at Lehman Brothers Inc. "It's not a "DeathStar"-like growth
rate, but it's a helluva growth rate."
Berzins said it's time to realize that the DBS
business won't go away.
"It's not going to kill the cable industry
off," he added, "but it's a strong business."
With record DBS numbers over year-earlier figures
throughout the first quarter, some analysts are wondering whether there's been a
fundamental shift in the business.
"One of two things will happen" to the DBS
business, said Steve Blum, a DBS consultant and president of Tellus Venture Associates.
"Either it will break out of the consumer- electronics seasonality curve, or you
could be looking at a killer fall."
To date, DBS sales have been strongest around the
fourth-quarter holiday selling season.
All three DBS platforms -- PrimeStar, DSS and Dish Network
-- ran aggressive promotional campaigns in the first quarter.