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Dish’s iPad Giveaway Portends Pay TV Marketing Wars

Satcaster offers $400 iPad 2 to new Hopper subscribers

With the pay TV industry finally hitting a plateau in subscriber growth, look for the fight for market share among cable, satellite and telco TV operators to get bloodier.

Dish Network, in one of the industry’s priciest up-front subscriber-acquisition offers to date, is giving away free Apple iPad 2 tablets with 16 gigabytes of storage — which carry a retail list price of $400 — to new subscribers who take its Hopper multiroom DVR. Alternatively, new customers can opt for monthly discounts of $25 to $35 per month on programming packages for the first year.

Dish had a very weak first quarter in terms of subscriber trends, as did DirecTV, and cable operator video losses mounted in the period. Dish added 36,000 net TV subscribers in Q1, compared with 104,000 a year earlier.

For Dish, giving away iPads makes sense: It’s not only the most popular tablet platform, but Dish also has developed a trio of apps for iPad that work with the Hopper, including one based on Sling technology that provides remote TV viewing on the tablet.

“Providing this device ensures new customers can fully experience all the benefits Hopper offers,” said Dave Shull, exec veep and chief commercial officer.

Separately, Dish is engaged in a legal showdown with TV broadcasters over the Hopper’s automatic ad-skipping feature. Fox has also filed a lawsuit seeking to block the DVR’s Dish Anywhere feature, which provides access to live or recorded video to Internet-connected devices.

For now, Dish and No. 1 satellite operator DirecTV are disadvantaged because they offer only TV, whereas cable ops and telcos can offer a triple-play bundle of video, broadband and voice. Dish is promoting satellite broadband service more aggressively now; in addition chairman Charlie Ergen now in a bidding war with Japan’s SoftBank for Sprint, which he sees as providing a path to future growth in wireless.

Dish’s free iPad offer requires customers to lock in a 24-month agreement and is subject to credit verification. Customers must select the Hopper DVR system and minimum of America’s Top 120 package. The Hopper with Sling and iPad offer begins May 22 and runs through Sept. 18, 2013.

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