In the heated battle to achieve scale—and survival—in the bloody virtual MVPD war, Sling TV managed to pad its lead in the fourth quarter, adding around 50,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter.
According to parent Dish Network, the live-streamed platform finished 2018 with 2.42 million subscribers across its Sling TV, Sling International and Sling Latino platforms. Dish had reported 2.370 million users for Sling TV in the third quarter.
Juxtaposed against Dish’s massive loss of 334,000 satellite TV users in Q4, Sling TV’s addition of 50,000 users during the period appears modest.
Dish first began breaking out Sling TV metrics in its fourth quarter 2017 earnings report, disclosing around 2.212 million users at the time. There’s no official Q4 2017 growth number. But the addition of 208,000 users for 2018 might also appear modest for Sling TV, given that some estimates had the platform growing by as many as 711,000 users in 2017.
Looked at another way, however, at least the top vMVPD is still growing—an attribute that can’t be ascribed to Sling TV’s closest rival, DirecTV Now. After a promotional bender put the AT&T platform on pace to surpass market leader Sling over the summer, a cold-turkey pullback on promos sent DirecTV Now reeling to a loss of 267,000 users in Q4.
Sling TV now has a comfortable margin over DirecTV Now and Hulu+ Live TV, both of which have around 1.6 million users.
Given how much these low-priced OTT channel packages lose for their operators, analysts don’t see the business as being accretive or meaningful at this point. And certainly, further diluting Dish’s dwindling pay TV user base with more and more virtual pay TV users isn’t helping in the near term. Pay TV average revenue per user (ARPU) dropped from $86.43 for Dish in 2017 to $85.46 last year. In 2016, the operator’s pay TV ARPU was $88.66.
But both Dish and AT&T are bullish on the potential of advanced advertising better monetizing these streaming services in the future. Achieving a critical mass of subscribers is critical for those advanced advertising aspirations.