Dish loses 200K more linear TV subscribers in Q4, value of satellite business ‘less than zero,’ analyst postulates

satellite dishes on a roof
(Rafael Castillo/CC BY 2.0)

Dish Network continued to experience significant deterioration to its core satellite TV business in the fourth quarter, losing an estimated 197,000 more customers.

Officially, the Englewood, Colo.-based operator reported a net gain of 39,000 pay TV subs, factoring in a first-time-ever subscriber disclosure for its Sling TV virtual MVPD service, which Dish said gained 160,000 subs in Q4. Dish also factored in 75,000 reconnections in Puerto Rico, which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last fall. 

For all of 2017, Dish lost just over 1 million satellite TV subscribers, ending the year with 11.03 million satellite users, down nearly 21% in just two years. 

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Breaking out the Sling business for the first time, Dish said its vMVPD—which was the only product of its kind when it entered the now-crowded market three years ago—has an industry-leading 2.21 million subscribers.

But base-priced at $20 a month, the migration of Dish’s pay TV base to Sling is having a negative impact on margins, with average revenue per customer declining nearly 3% in 2017 to $86.43. 

Dish’s fourth-quarter revenue declined 7.2% year over year to $3.48 billion. 

Beyond the solid Sling TV numbers, Dish also did have some happy news to report, thanks to the Republican-led corporate tax bonanza. Dish reported net income of $1.39 billion in the fourth quarter, compared to $355 million in Q4 2016, with the corporate tax break benefiting the telecom company’s bottom line to the tune of $1.2 billion after tax liability adjustments. 

According to MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett, Dish’s shares are now down more than 50% compared with the broader market over the last year. In trying to assess the company’s value, also factoring in significant spectrum holdings, Moffett wonders if the asset value of the pay TV side of the business is now “less than zero.”

“It is very likely the case that the warranted multiple for Dish’s satellite business is already less than its leverage ratio,” Moffett said in a note to investors. “With nearly all of Dish’s debt held at its satellite subsidiary, without recourse to Dish’s spectrum holdings as collateral, it can be argued that the enterprise value of Dish’s satellite business can never drop below the value of its debt (since Dish could, in theory, simply separate the two businesses and let the satellite business go bankrupt)."

Would AT&T want to buy Dish, as some have suggested? 

"DirecTV is now itself declining rather rapidly," Moffett pointed out. "Would AT&T want more where that came from, even allowing for huge synergies? And, if they did want it, would they, or anyone else, pay more than 5x EBITDA for it?"