DirectTV subs soar

Rupe's new group adds 405,000 subs in 4Q

NEW YORK — Satellite continues to add new subscribers at a breakneck pace, as DirecTV on Thursday reported higher-than-expected fourth quarter 2003 customer gains, bringing its total house count to 12.2 million at the end of the year.

For the quarter, DirecTV added 405,000 new subscribers, up nearly 40% over the 292,000 it picked up during the same period last year. Company also said it managed to slightly reduce its monthly churn rate to 1.45%.

Such robust growth comes as Rupert Murdoch’s team takes the marketing and operational reins at the satcaster. According to analysts at Deutsche Bank, the momentum suggests that News Corp. will not likely need to resort to any massive price disounting to drive growth.

Rival satcaster EchoStar has not yet disclosed its own full-year figures, but analysts reckon Charlie Ergen’s lower cost Dish Network added around 300,000 new subs in the last quarter.

Combined, the two DBS platforms have added an estimated 2.4 million new customers for the year. That’s on a par with 2002’s healthy satellite subscriber gains, suggesting there’s no let-up in the sector’s ability to outmarket the cable industry.

“Despite heightened competition across the entire pay television market, demand for DirecTV was as strong as ever in 2003,” said new DirecTV prexy and CEO Mitch Stern, who commended DirecTV employees and partner distributors for the strong performance.

Stern said DirecTV would be introducing new high definition programming channels, advanced set-top boxes and new interactive services in 2004. Platform will also offer local broadcast channels in over 90% of the country.

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