Dish loses 23K pay-TV subs in Q1, still not breaking out Sling TV numbers

Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) reported its first-quarter numbers marked by a net loss of 23,000 pay-TV subscribers, compared to a net gain of 35,000 in the year-ago quarter. But it's still difficult to determine how much subscriber gains made by Dish's Sling TV offset losses to the core DBS service because Dish still isn't breaking out subscriber numbers for its IP-based streaming service.

Dish added about 657,000 gross new pay-TV subscribers, down from about 723,000 in the year-ago quarter. As is standard now, Dish rolls its Sling TV subscribers into its total pay-TV metrics including subscriber numbers, pay-TV ARPU and pay-TV churn rate.

Dish ended the first quarter with 13.874 million pay-TV subscribers, down annually from 14.013 million. But pay-TV ARPU for the first quarter was up, hitting $87.94 as compared a pay-TV ARPU of $85.73 posted in the year-ago quarter. Pay-TV subscriber churn rate also dropped slightly, coming in at 1.63 percent as compared to 1.64 percent in the year-ago quarter.

Evercore analysts used Dish's disclosures in its 10-Q filing with the SEC to estimate that Dish's satellite business lost between 166,000 and 215,000 subscribers and that Sling TV added between 143,000 and 192,000 subscribers. MoffettNathanson's estimates weren't too far off from that, with the analyst firm calculating Dish's satellite losses to be about 158,000 and its Sling TV additions to be about 135,000.

Dish also managed to add about 5,000 net broadband subscribers during the quarter, raising its broadband subscriber base to about 628,000.

Dish's total revenue for the quarter reached $3.79 billion, an improvement over the year-ago quarter ($3.72 billion) but still below Wall Street estimates. However, Dish's earnings per share of $0.84 was well ahead of estimates and the company's net income of $389 million for the quarter was a marked improvement over the $351 million posted in the year-ago quarter.

Dish's stock jumped Wednesday on the company's sharp increase in profits. But, as Evercore and MoffettNathanson point out, investors will be listening for news about Dish's spectrum and the satellite provider's current standoff with Viacom when Dish hosts an earnings call later today.

Given how Dish is hosting its first-quarter earnings call much earlier than usual, and right before its agreement with Viacom is set to expire, BTIG is predicting Dish will drop Viacom.

"The only logical conclusion we can come up with is that DISH has already made up its mind that a deal with Viacom is not achievable and wants to use [today's] conference call to set the investor/press messaging for the new realities facing the MVPD bundle," BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield wrote in a research note.

For more:
- see this earnings release

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