Dish misses revenue estimates as more subscribers ditch pay-TV

(Reuters) - Dish Network Corp DISH.O said its pay-TV subscriber losses accelerated and reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue, reigniting questions around what the satellite-TV provider will do with its trove of wireless airwaves.

Dish shares were down 1.6 percent at $62.73 in afternoon trading on Monday after it reported a loss about 23,000 TV subscribers on a net basis in the quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with a loss of about 12,000 a year earlier. Dish’s shares have fallen about 13 percent year-to-date.

As the pay-TV industry tackles subscriber drops, Dish has been trying to lure young viewers to its cheaper $20-per-month Sling TV online streaming service. Investors have been watching for any signs of what Dish chief executive Charlie Ergen plans to do with wireless airwaves or spectrum the company has spent billions stockpiling over the past few years.

Possible plans include a partnership with another wireless player or building or buying a wireless network.

“Charlie Ergen sits atop a crumbling Pay-TV provider with a very valuable spectrum asset ... but it’s not clear who has the money to buy it from him,” MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett said in a research note.

Dish affiliates surrendered spectrum licenses worth $3.3 billion to the government last month after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission found they were ineligible for small-business discounts.

The FCC plans to re-auction those licenses after an auction of broadcast airwaves scheduled for early 2016. Dish plans to participate in the re-auction, Ergen said on an earnings call.

Dish has not yet decided whether or not it will participate in the broadcast auction, Ergen said.

The FCC will accept forms from prospective participants of the broadcast auction in January. “Odds are greater” that Dish will not enter into a spectrum deal before that, Ergen added on the call.

Dish, the No. 2 U.S. satellite TV company by revenue, does not break out Sling TV numbers, but Moffett estimated the company added 155,000 Sling TV subscribers.

“We now estimate that Sling probably added 155K subscribers, a much more respectable result than the paltry 24K we had estimated this morning,” the brokerage said in a note.

Dish said its average revenue per pay-TV user rose to $86.33 in the third quarter from $84.39 a year earlier.

Net income attributable to Dish rose 34.2 percent to $196 million, or 42 cents per share.

Revenue rose marginally to $3.73 billion.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of 39 cents per share and revenue of $3.79 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Reporting by Anya George Thakaran in Bengaluru and Malathi Nayak in New York; Editing by Maju Samuel, Ted Kerr and Andrew Hay