Market-leading direct-broadcast satellite company DirecTv
Inc. maintained its leadership position in subscriber growth last month, with 81,000 new
subscribers marking the company's best January ever.
DBS companies typically see sales begin to drop
dramatically in January after the December holiday peak. DirecTv added 180,000 new
subscribers in December.
According to SkyTrends, which tracks DBS numbers, EchoStar
posted 50,000 new subscribers last month. EchoStar also enjoyed a better January this year
than last, and signed a respectable two-thirds of the 75,000 customers it added in
PrimeStar Partners L.P., struggling to keep its
medium-power business growing while facing continued uncertainty over its planned move to
high-power DBS, signed up only 16,000 new subscribers in January. That's down from
40,000 in December. PrimeStar has been inching closer to the 2-million-subscriber mark for
several months. PrimeStar said last week that it had 1.961 million subscribers on Jan. 31.
'We are widening the gap between our DBS competitors
and us,' DirecTv president Eddy Hartenstein said last week. 'For the third
consecutive month, we activated more subscribers than PrimeStar and EchoStar
Hartenstein also boasted that DirecTv's strong sales
momentum from its record fourth-quarter 1997 is continuing into the new year.
Steve Blum, president of Tellus Venture Associates, said
that part of DirecTv's strong January may be attributed to a backlog of Digital
Satellite System installations from December.
And despite the stronger-than-previous January numbers, it
would be misleading to conclude that DBS sales are no longer influenced by the seasonality
of other consumer electronics products.
'You have a very consistent curve there in terms of
seasonality,' said Blum, 'and I don't think that's going to
'The numbers track what's been happening year to
year in January,' said Jimmy Schaeffler, chairman and CEO of California-based The
Carmel Group. 'We're going into our fourth year of January numbers, and
they're in line with the annual dip following the holidays.'
The seasonal dip shouldn't be confused as a slowdown
in DBS sales. 'There are many hours of sun left on the DBS market,' said
Mickey Alpert, president of Washington, D.C.-based Alpert
& Associates, agreed. 'The initial indications are the numbers bode well for the
industry,' he said, 'but I'll feel more comfortable saying that when I see
the February numbers.'