Dish Network added fuel to the debate that protracted retrans battles lead to heavy subscriber losses, dropping 156,000 customers in the fourth quarter, a deficit that many analysts blame on its nearly month-long dispute with Fox Sports last year.
National Geographic Channel, FX and 19 regional Fox Sports networks went dark on Dish on Oct. 1 and did not return until Oct. 29. While Dish has struggled with subscriber losses in the past - it has now shed customers in three of the last four quarters - analysts had hoped the satellite giant was turning a corner. Although Dish finished the year in the black - it added a total of 33,000 customers for the full year - it was the worst quarterly subscriber performance in the company's history. And Dish's results were a stark contrast to No. 1 satellite TV service provider DirecTV, which added 289,000 customers in the fourth quarter and 663,000 for the full year.
Dish shares were down as much as 5.3% ($1.21 each) in early trading today. The stock was priced at $22.58 each (down 35 cents per share or 1.5%) at 10:46 a.m.