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Lack of HBO Fuels Dish’s Loss of 266,000 Satellite Subscribers in Q1, Sling TV Flat

Dish Network, already hurting from cord-cutting, again felt an added sting because of HBO and Univision programming blackouts for the first quarter of 2019.

The company posted an 8% decline in both revenue and profit, amid a loss of 266,000 net satellite TV subscribers in the period (versus a decline of 185,000 in Q1 2018) to stand at 9.639 million. Meanwhile, Dish’s over-the-top TV service, Sling TV, eked out just 7,000 net new subs in the quarter, essentially flat to 2.424 million.

Over the last 12 months, Dish’s satellite subs have plummeted 11%, with the company shedding 1.2 million customers.

Late in Q1, Univision and Dish finally reached a pact: On March 26 the companies announced a new carriage pact, after a nine-month standoff. Under the pact, Univision channels returned to Dish’s satellite lineup but will not come back to the Sling TV skinny bundles.

But Dish — which has a long history of playing hardball with programming suppliers — still hasn’t reached terms for HBO. On Oct. 31, 2018, HBO and Cinemax channels went dark on the Dish TV and Sling TV lineup, and since then “we and AT&T have been unable to negotiate the terms and conditions of a new programming carriage contract,” the satcaster said in its 10-Q filing Friday.

Dish noted that under AT&T’s agreement with the Justice Department in connection with its acquisition of Time Warner, Turner is required to enter into binding arbitration — and to guarantee continued access to programming — for any contract dispute. However, HBO isn’t covered under that provision. Last fall, Dish chairman Charlie Ergen accused AT&T of using HBO as “an economic weapon.”

Overall, Dish’s financial results were in line with Wall Street expectations. The Englewood, Colo.-based company posted $3.19 billion in revenue for Q1, down 8% year over year. Net income also dropped 8%, to $340 million for the quarter (65 cents per share). Analysts had forecast $3.19 billion in sales and EPS of 66 cents.

HBO’s blackout on Dish and Sling TV also is hurting HBO: The premium programmer’s revenue declined in the 7% in the first quarter, to $1.5 billion, which AT&T said was related to the Dish spat.

Ahead of the premiere of “Game of Thrones” season 8 last month, Dish pointed disgruntled HBO fans to the HBO Now OTT service — and provided instructions on how to sign up.

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