Analyst: Sling added 129K subs in Q4, kept the pay-TV industry artificially in the black

Dish Network's (NASDAQ: DISH) Sling TV has not only become a powerful driver of its own company's corporate earnings sheet, but the broader pay-TV industry, as well.

According to MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett, the IP-based pay-TV service added 129,000 customers in Q4, giving the pay-TV business total customer growth of 80,000, instead of a net loss of 49,000.

Dish has been rolling its Sling TV subscriber gains into its overall customer metrics for several quarters, without disclosing specific metrics for the virtual pay-TV service. The satellite TV service provider reported customer losses of 81,000 for 2015, but Moffett said the real hit to the traditional satellite service might have been masked by Sling's gains and could stand at around 141,000 for the year.

Moffett ponders the question of whether an IP-based service should be included in pay-TV metrics. 

"Excluding Sling TV (from the persecutive of a distributor, it is not a traditional pay-TV service), the industry lost about 49K subscribers in the fourth quarter, marking the fourth consecutive quarterly loss and the first time the industry has ever lost subscribers in what is usually a seasonally strong fourth quarter."

Notably, Moffett pegged Sling's subscriber count at 523,000 as of the end of the fourth quarter. This roughly jibes with a Wall Street Journal estimate of 600,000 published last week.

The analyst, meanwhile, clarified earlier speculation about Comcast's accounting methodology — speculation that was reported on by FierceCable.

"Comcast dispelled the rumor that it is lumping Sling-like OGT subscribers together with traditional video subscribers," Moffett said. "The company clarified that it doesn't even have a product like Sling TV. Their Stream TV service doesn't technically stream video; it's a Title IV video service that taps into a regular simulcast, and it's only addable to Comcast high-speed data customers with a wireless gateway."

Related articles:
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Dish may have lost 141K TV subscribers during 4Q, MoffettNathanson says