After Dish Network Beats Q4 Earnings Estimate, Chairman Charlie Ergen Pronounces Last Rites For Rising Carriage Fees: “The Next Step In Retrans Is Down, Not Up”
Dish Network showed progress in its pivot toward the wireless business, smashing Wall Street’s fourth-quarter earnings estimates and reporting just shy of 8 million retail wireless subscribers as of the end of 2022.
The company’s shares perked up 5% on the news, ending the trading day at $13.76, though the stock remains well below its level in mid-2022.
During the company’s quarterly earnings call, Executive Chairman Charlie Ergen widened his attack on programmers seeking to extract ever-higher fees from Dish to carry their networks. The company has long been at odds with regional sports networks and at times has feuded with HBO, Univision and local stations. Asked during the press portion of the call about the company’s dispute with Cox Media Group, nine of whose stations went Dark on Dish platforms last fall.
“I said it about regional sports and I’m saying it now,” Ergen said. “The next step in retrans is down, not up. … Any customer that wanted Cox has left Dish.”
Revenue for the quarter came in at $4.04 billion, compared with $4.45 billion in the same period of 2022. That was below Wall Street analysts’ consensus forecast, but earnings rocketed to $1.47 per share compared with 87 cents a year ago, tripling the Street’s outlook.
Net pay-TV subscribers fell about 268,000 in the fourth quarter, a slightly better drop than the year-ago quarter’s decline of 273,000. Dish closed 2022 with 9.75 million pay-TV subscribers, 7.42 million of those being traditional satellite and 2.33 million on the internet-delivered Sling TV.
Since acquiring wireless spectrum and investing in its network over the past couple of years, Dish has begun to show signs of making strides, though it remains behind category giants AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. The retail wireless subscriber roster shed 24,000 in the fourth quarter, compared to a net decrease of 245,000 a year ago quarter and leaving the company with 7.98 million at year-end.
Much of the earnings call was focused on the grand pivot to telecom, but once the topic of pay-TV came up, Ergen didn’t hesitate to grind his axe. “We have some empathy for their plight but we cannot be their bank,” he said of broadcasters. He called local TV “the newspaper of this decade,”
CEO Erik Carlson said the company’s recent launch of FreeStream, a portfolio of FAST channels offered via Sling at no charge, is not aimed at becoming leverage in retrans negotians. Over-the-top pay-TV is “a bit seasonal,” Carlson explained. “It’s not a lot diff from regional sports.” Having a service like FreeStrem “keeps customers in our ecosystem. Folks still love TV, but unfortunately it’s gotten harder to watch TV.”
Ergen said rather than distributors or programmers, the consumer is the one with leverage nowadays. “And the consumer is saying to us, ‘We don’t want you to raise the price.'”