News Analysis
Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch’s sudden announcement yesterday that he will leave the live streaming service next month to become CEO and president of Pandora Media caught most industry observers by surprise.

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After all, why would Lynch leave now when the Dish-owned Sling finally seems to have some momentum after some early bumps in the road? Analysts have estimated that Sling’s subscriptions are somewhere between 1.5 million and 2 million, which would put it far ahead of its live streaming rivals such as DIRECTV Now, PlayStation Vue and Hulu Live.

So, did Lynch decide to seek safe harbor at Pandora now because he knows the seas at Dish are about to get a bit unsettled?

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Dish, which has lost nearly one million satellite subscribers in the last four years (total number includes Sling TV’s gains), has been rumored to be seeking a merger partner. Company CEO Charlie Ergen has openly lamented that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete against better-funded pay TV companies such as AT&T’s DIRECTV and Comcast.

Of course, as the nation’s second largest satellite TV service, Dish is almost always the subject of merger rumors. But this time is different with subscriber losses escalating with no bottom in sight.

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Perhaps Lynch knows that Dish is about to join forces with another company, which could leave his job at Sling TV uncertain at best. The new management team might want to put one of its own over the live streaming service.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a high-profile executive bolted a company shortly before his position was about to be eliminated or made less important.

Pouring fuel on this speculative fire is the fact that Dish said yesterday that Sling’s responsibilities would now fall under current Dish COO Erik Carlson. Rather than hire a new person dedicated solely to run Sling, the satcaster is merely shifting the streamer’s operations up a line on the corporate flowchart.

Considering that Dish has spent more than two years building Sling up from nothing to well over one million subscribers, that seems like an odd decision. You would think that Dish would want someone at the top who was as dedicated and focused as Lynch to run Sling., particularly as the live streaming category gets more competitive.

As Dish COO, with multiple responsibilities, Carlson can’t be that person.

But if Carlson is simply a placeholder who would be replaced as Sling’s chief if the company decides to merge, then it all makes sense.

Final note: There’s another scenario here. Dish could be preparing to sell Sling TV. It seems unlikely because Sling is actually adding subs while the satellite division is not. But you never know with Charlie Ergen.

Bottom line: We don’t know if Lynch’s exit is anything more than an ambitious executive seeking a better opportunity. (That also happens all the time.) But the timing of his departure certainly raises questions with Dish’s current and future plans in flux.

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— Phillip Swann