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Dish Loses 143,000 TV Customers in Q1 as Revenue, Earnings Drop

Charlie Ergen’s Dish Network posted declines in earnings and revenue for the first three months of 2017, as the No. 2 satcaster saw more subscribers cancel their service than expected.

In the first quarter, Dish’s net pay-TV subscribers — which include the Sling TV over-the-top service — dropped by 143,000 in the first quarter, compared to a decline of 23,000 in Q1 of 2016. Dish’s core satellite TV numbers likely bore the brunt of the losses, as the Sling TV “skinny bundles” have been gaining traction with lower price points. Wall Street analysts had projected Dish would lose a net 72,000 subscribers in Q1, according to FactSet.

Revenue of $3.68 billion for the quarter ended March 31 was down 3.9% year over year, while earnings of 76 cents per share dropped by 6% (versus EPS of 86 cents in the year-ago quarter). Analysts had expected earnings of 69 cents per share on revenue of $3.78 billion, per Thomson Reuters.

The company ended March with 13.528 million pay-TV subs, down 2.5% compared to 13.874 million a year earlier. The decline in Q1 comes after Dish added a net 28,000 pay-TV subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2016, the first time in more than two years it had shown overall sub growth in the TV segment.

Contributing to Dish’s Q1 subscriber losses: an extended blackout of Hearst Television’s 31 local stations that began in early March, before the parties resolved the standoff last week.

According to estimates by MoffettNathanson’s Craig Moffett, Dish in the first quarter of 2017 lost 320,000 satellite TV customers, with the size of its traditional base down 9.1% year over year. That means the company gained 177,000 Sling TV subs, to stand at 1.36 million at the end of March, according to the analyst.

Dish’s pay-TV average revenue per customer for the first quarter was $86.55 per month, down from $87.94 a year earlier. Pay-TV subscriber churn rate was 1.69% versus 1.63% for first quarter 2016.

Separately, in the FCC’s spectrum auction of local TV broadcast airwaves that closed last month, Dish bought more spectrum than expected — $6.2 billion, according to ParkerB.com wireless.

Also during Q1, Dish lost 25,000 net satellite broadband subscribers to stand at about 555,000 broadband subs at the end of the period.

The company noted that during the first quarter it completed a transaction with sister company EchoStar that transferred certain EchoStar assets and operations to Dish in exchange for Dish’s 80% interest in the Hughes Retail Group that was held in the form of a tracking stock.

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