It’s been known for quite a while that satellite TV companies are struggling severely. Both DirecTV and Dish Network have been bleeding customers in recent years, even more than the customers lost by the cable TV industry.
AT&T lost 620,000 subscribers from its video business, which mostly consists of DirecTV, in the first quarter of 2021, after losing 897,000 in the same quarter the year before. AT&T won’t even entirely own DirecTV for much longer, as it reached an agreement earlier this year to spin off the service to a new company in which it will own a partial stake. The same company, more surprisingly, recently announced plans to sell off the former TimeWarner assets into a new entity along with Discovery.
Things aren’t going much better for the other major satellite company, Dish Network. That company lost about 230,000 pay-TV subscribers in the first quarter, with the Dish service losing 130,000 subscribers and Sling TV dropping another 100,000, per The Hollywood Reporter.
Writing for Circle ID, Doug Dawson of CGC Consulting this week offered another perspective on the decline of satellite ID.
“Probably the biggest long-term trend that bodes poorly for satellite TV is the federal government’s push to bring better broadband to rural America. Selling TV to customers with poor broadband is still the sweet spot for the two companies. As the number of homes with good broadband rises, the prospects for satellite TV sinks,” he wrote.
Dawson has noticed that while a certain baseline of customers has usually subscribed to satellite services, that’s happening less and less. Also, he’s been seeing a lot fewer satellite dishes in cities than he used to.
“My firm has been doing community surveys for twenty years, and we’ve noticed a big change in satellite TV penetrations. A decade ago, I expected to find a 15% market share of satellite TV in almost any town that we surveyed. But in the last few years, people in towns appear to be the ones that have bailed on satellite TV,” Dawson wrote. “It’s rare for us to find more than a few percent of households in towns who are now buying satellite TV. Households have moved to the web to find video content, with the big losers being satellite TV and landline cable companies.”
Dawson also didn’t expect a merger between the two companies to make sense.
“It’s hard to picture any investor group that would want to back this merger. The whole idea behind a merger is that the combined company is worth more than the individual pieces,” he wrote. “But even if the combined satellite companies were able to cut costs with a merger, it seems likely that any savings would quickly get subsumed by continued customer losses.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.