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What We Heard from Dish Just before the Big Insider Buy

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Dec. 4 2020, Updated 10:53 a.m. ET

Sling TV gained 91,000 customers

Weeks before it was revealed that Charlie Ergen made the largest insider buy of Dish Network (DISH) stock in years, we heard about the positive progress of the company’s online television service, Sling TV. Dish had also talked about building an Internet-of-Things (or IoT) network and the opportunities it sees with the arrival of the 5G network.

Sling TV revenues and profit margins are improving, Dish said. Sling TV added 91,000 subscribers in the first quarter to exit the quarter with more than 2.3 million customers in total. AT&T’s (T) competing service DirecTV Now had attracted nearly 1.5 million subscribers at the end of the first quarter.

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Sling TV trails Netflix in audience size

However, Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN) boast much larger audiences for their online video services than Dish’s Sling TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now. Netflix reached 118.9 million paying customers globally in the first quarter. Amazon revealed in April that its Prime program, which includes an online video service akin to Sling TV, has attracted more than 100 million members.

Sling TV subscription starts at $20 per month while DirecTV Now subscription starts at $35 per month. Netflix starts at $9.99 per month while Amazon’s Prime subscription costs $12.99 per month or $119 per year, and that offers an array of benefits that include free delivery of items purchased on Amazon’s online marketplace.

Dish building 5G IoT network

Dish said 5G networks would power new technologies such as autonomous driving and that every industry will need it. Dish sees itself in a great position to capitalize on 5G. The company is currently working on building the first phase of the IoT network that will lead to it building a nationwide 5G network. Mobile operators AT&T, Verizon (VZ), and T-Mobile (TMUS) are in various stages of building 5G networks and eyeing nationwide reach in the next few years.

Broader availability of 5G networks is expected to stimulate the uptake of online television services such as Sling TV. Ericson estimates there will be a billion 5G subscribers by 2023.

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