Dish Network profit tops estimates on surprise subscriber additions

(Reuters) - U.S. satellite TV provider Dish Network Corp DISH.O reported a better-than-expected profit and added pay-TV subscribers in the fourth quarter as more customers signed up for its lower-priced Sling TV streaming service.

Dish said it added about 28,000 net subscribers to its satellite TV and Sling TV services in the three months ended Dec. 31. That compared to a loss of approximately 12,000 subscribers in the same period in 2015.

Analysts on average had estimated Dish would lose 87,000 subscribers, according to market research firm FactSet StreetAccount.

Shares rose 1 percent to $63.42 in afternoon trading.

Dish’s results are closely watched because in recent years, the company has amassed spectrum, or radio frequencies that carry the growing amounts of data flowing through devices, and is widely considered by industry watchers to be an acquisition target.

On the company’s post-earnings conference call, Chief Executive Charlie Ergen said a new presidential administration could create a more favorable environment for consolidation.

“I would imagine that we’re not the biggest company and we’re not going to drive that process, but obviously many of the assets we hold probably could be involved in that mix,” he said.

Dish also said on the call that it was seeing Sling TV’s demographics broaden. The service, launched in 2015, initially targeted younger consumers who had never subscribed to cable TV or already cut the cord.

“It’s not quite as male as it used to be,” said Roger Lynch, CEO of Sling TV. “We’re getting people of all age groups.”

Analysts said the company’s subscriber additions were driven by Sling TV but noted that Dish’s satellite business had underperformed.

Craig Moffett, an analyst at MoffettNathanson, estimated that Dish lost 245,000 satellite subscribers in the fourth quarter. “Once again, the overall picture of Dish’s video business is rather disquieting,” he wrote. “Churn continues to tick higher.”

Churn, or the rate of customer defections, was 1.83 percent during 2016, compared to 1.71 percent in 2015.

Net income attributable to Dish was $343 million, or 70 cents per share, in the quarter, compared with a loss of $125 million, or 27 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenue fell to $3.72 billion from $3.78 billion.

Analysts on an average were expecting Dish to earn 66 cents per share on revenue of $3.76 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Additional reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza and Nick Zieminski