Sub Losses Plague Dish In Q3


Subscriber losses continued to plague Dish Network in the third quarter, as the second largest satellite TV service provider in the country lost about 29,000 customers in the period, a sign that some analysts said pointed to its focus on price conscious customers.
It was the second consecutive quarter of subscriber losses for Dish - the satellite giant lost about 19,000 customers in the second quarter. And depending on the analyst, it was either a sign of the folly of targeting lower-end customers or a temporary rough spot as Dish weeds out lower-tier customers for those buying HDTV and other advanced services
In a research report Friday, Sanford Bernstein cable and satellite analyst Craig Moffett singled out the subscriber "shrinkage" as a sign that Dish is once again headed for rough waters.
"The travails of the low end consumer poured cold water on Dish's nascent recovery from the rough patch it had hit in 2009 and, as any Seinfeld fan will recall, with cold water comes shrinkage," Moffett wrote.
While financial growth was in line with most estimates - revenue at $3.2 billion was marginally ahead of consensus - and average monthly revenue per customer increased 6.8% to $74.24, Moffett was discouraged by higher churn and greater subscriber acquisition costs. In the period, churn rose to 1.98%(well above consensus expectations of 1.8%) and SAC was $795 per gross addition, again above consensus of $741).
"In most monoline businesses, when trends turn negative, investors get scared," Moffett wrote. "We expect a similar reaction here. Longer term risks of disintermediation ("cord cutting") pose an existential threat to satellite's broadcast-only video business, and cable's broadband dominance poses the risk of competitive foreclosure. If near term results are negative, and long term expectations are worse, it's very hard indeed to make a case for expanding multiples."
Other analysts said the subscriber losses were likely self-induced - Dish spent less effort trying to retain less profitable customers.
In a note Friday Pivotal Research Group principal and media & communications analyst Jeff Wlodarczak wrote that price increases, customers dropping pay TV in favor of over the air television and the weak economy all played a role in the subscriber losses.
"It appears that Dish was more focused on driving better financial results (partly through reduced retention) likely letting pre-paid subscribers bleed off," Wlodarczak wrote. "We highlight that Dish could have likely raised retention $50 million during Q3 [and] reported a financial beat and positive subscriber growth."
Dish shares were up 42 cents each (2%) to $21.11 per share in afternoon trading Nov. 5.
Dish executives hinted on a conference call with analysts Friday that the subscriber losses could continue in the fourth quarter, adding that the full impact of its 30-day carriage battle with Fox Networks is not yet fully known.
"Clearly the Fox dispute in the short term is going to have an impact," Dish executive vice president Tom Cullen said on the call. "During a programming interruption you are going to lose subscribers. The effect of that continues even after the programming comes back up because you have to reengage on both the activation and churn front." He declined to quantify what impact hat may have on the fourth quarter.
Fox pulled its FX network, National Geographic channel and 19 regional sports networks from Dish on Oct. 1. The networks were restored on Oct. 29, after the two parties reached a deal.
Dish chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen said on the call that while the dispute presented some short term pain for Dish, it was worth it because Dish now has a more solid relationship with Fox.
"Our partnership now is very solid," Ergen said. "The long term results will hopefully outweigh the short term impact."