Dish yesterday released its 2021 fourth quarter report which showed the company losing a net of 273,000 video subscribers. Sling TV lost approximately 70,000 while Dish’s satellite TV service lost around 200,000. At the end of the quarter, Dish had 10.77 million subscribers with 8.22 million for satellite and 2.49 million for Sling.

Following the report’s release, Dish executives took questions from industry analysts and journalists on a variety of topics, including whether Dish will merge with DIRECTV and the channel blackouts that have impacted Dish’s subscriber numbers over the last few years.

As usual, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen was the dominant speaker during the event and here are the highlights of his remarks:

Ergen suggested that Dish lost a significant number of customers due to its carriage dispute with Tegna. The satcaster last year lost 64 Tegna stations before the companies settled this month.
“I’ve always felt that anytime you get to a program dispute, it’s a lose-lose situation,” Ergen said. “It’s never a win situation for one guy or the other. It’s always a lose-lose situation. Tegna lost the fair amount of capital from us. They probably sold their company a little bit cheaper than they otherwise would have. We obviously lost customers during…obviously, we proved that you can go through a football season without a network…but we did lose some customers who watch the networks and felt they were important.”

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Ergen added that he believes some programmers will go out of business if they don’t lower their carriage fees. Dish has suffered more channel blackouts than any other pay TV provider due to carriage disputes.
“It (carriage fees) will die a death on its own if people try to overcharge for the product,” Ergen said. “And we’ve seen that with other programmers who just refused to see where things were going and at some point, they self-destruct.”

But Ergen said his customers understand why Dish will sometimes undergo blackouts to reduce the cost of acquiring programming.
“Our customers like us, we get high scores in our industry. They hung in there with us,” Ergen said. “Our customers agree that they don’t want their costs going up, and they appreciate the fact that we’re willing to – they’re not willing to not roll over and play dead in negotiations. And at the end of the day, we got to a fair deal with TEGNA that’s beneficial to both parties and beneficial to our consumers so we don’t have to raise the price as much as everybody else is going to have to raise prices.”

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Ergen reiterated that he believes DIRECTV and Dish will eventually merge, a prediction he has made frequently in the past. He added that he believes that federal regulators would now be more inclined to approve the deal because of a new federal program to expand Internet access in rural areas. But Ergen did not give a timetable on when he thinks a merger will occur. The New York Post reported in January that the two companies are discussing a deal.

“I think it’s inevitable that Dish and DIRECTV go together,” Ergen said. “Otherwise, both companies will just melt away, and there’ll be no service for customers. The regulatory reasons to not allow it, don’t exist anymore. So – and I can’t – from a timing perspective, I don’t – I think it’s inevitable. I don’t know on the timing of it, I guess, is what I’d say.”

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