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Dish continues to see losses in satellite, Sling TV customers

The Echostar-owned company now has slightly north of 8.5 million total pay television subscribers.

The Echostar-owned company now has slightly north of 8.5 million total pay television subscribers.

A satellite antenna used by Dish Network. (Photo by Ryan Finnie via Wikimedia Commons)
A satellite antenna used by Dish Network. (Photo by Ryan Finnie via Wikimedia Commons)

Dish Network continued to see erosion in its core pay television product, with its flagship satellite and streaming Sling TV service losing subscribers during the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2023.

On Friday, Dish parent Echostar said the service ended 2023 with 8.53 million total pay TV subscribers across its business, to include 6.47 million satellite customers and 2.06 million Sling TV subscribers.

The figures represented a cumulative net loss of 315,000 subscribers — 250,000 at Dish and another 65,000 at Sling TV.

Echostar said the losses at Dish were due to a combination of higher churn and lower customer activations — in other words, not enough people are signing up for Dish to fully offset the number of customers who are moving away from satellite TV.

Those customers aren’t necessarily taking up Sling TV, either, with Echostar admitting that its strategy to pare back discounts in pursuit of “higher-quality subscribers” didn’t yield the kind of result it wanted in 2023.

Sling TV is the cheapest sports-inclusive streaming cable replacements on the market, with plans starting at $40 per month for one of two base programming packages. The company’s Sling Orange plan includes Disney-owned channels like ESPN and ABC in some areas, while its Sling Blue package includes Fox- and NBC-owned channels (including some networks like FX that Fox used to own).

A combined Sling Orange-Sling Blue package includes ESPN, Fox Sports, the NFL Network and more for $55 per month, which also clocks in at a lower price than most of its competitors. By contrast, YouTube TV costs $73 per month, while a version of Hulu that includes live TV networks costs around $77 per month.

Unlike YouTube and Hulu, Sling TV doesn’t include local channels in most areas (unless subscribers live in a market where Fox, NBC or ABC own the local station; it doesn’t offer CBS at all). Instead, Sling offers subscribers the chance to purchase a device called Air TV, which uses an antenna to integrate local broadcast stations within the Sling TV app. Air TV costs $80, and only works with Sling.

Sling TV also relegates some highly-sought cable channels into separate add-on tiers, which drive up the cost of a programming package. Paramount Network, which airs the popular western drama “Yellowstone,” is among the channels that Sling charges more to access. YouTube TV and Hulu include the channel in their base programming packages.

Sling TV’s continued subscriber losses is a strong indication that customers view it as a less-viable option once they move away from cable and satellite. Instead, they’re gravitating toward YouTube TV (which has nearly 8 million paid and free trial subscribers) and Hulu with Live TV (more than 4 million subscribers), both services that have grown over the same period of time that Sling has shrunk.

The end result is a situation where Dish and Sling TV are losing both customers and money to other services. On Friday, Echostar said Dish and Sling TV brought in $11.571 billion in 2023, roughly 7.5 percent less than the $12.505 billion it earned the previous year.

That, coupled with higher expenses related to Dish’s continued build out of a fifth-generation (5G) wireless network, weighed on Echostar’s overall revenue, too, with the company reporting a loss of $1.7 billion on revenue of $17.015 billion in 2023. By comparison, Echostar took in $18.634 billion in 2022 and posted a profit of $2.477 billion at the end of the year.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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