Satcasters Battle: Dish Aligns With ViaSat To Bundle Services

Satellite operators have searched for ways to offer TV-broadband bundles to match their cable competitors. Dish Network has announced a deal with ViaSat that moves in that direction, as questions continue to arise about the path DirecTV will take.

Cable operators have been better able to withstand losses in video subscribers -– and higher program acquisition costs -- with booms in their broadband customer numbers.

“DirecTV faces the same rising programming costs, but has no analogous outlet,” wrote Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett. “The company is therefore faced with an unappetizing choice. Stay competitive by ‘accepting’ the inevitable decline in margins … or raise prices to preserve margins, and in the process, become less and less attractive to price-conscious consumers.”

DirecTV did, in fact, extend a deal with AT&T last fall, allowing AT&T customers to get the satellite service along with broadband, home-phone and wireless connections. Yet Moffett suggested that over time, AT&T and Verizon (another DirecTV partner) will want to increasingly nudge customers toward their own TV services as the footprint reaches saturation.



As other operators struggled, DirecTV added 327,000 TV subscribers in last year’s third quarter, although some of those may have resulted from a “NFL Sunday Ticket” promotion.

If Dish, however, is able to draw considerable interest with its broadband service and Blockbuster-branded services, it could chip away at DirecTV’s growth.

Moffett's estimates indicate that DirecTV mostly competes with Dish for subscribers and less with cable companies, getting about one-third of gross subscriber increases from Dish customers. Thus, it is heavily “dependent on sustained weakness” at Dish.

“More than ever, subscriber growth in the satellite industry is a zero-sum game, where DirecTV’s gains must be Dish Network’s loss,” Moffett wrote.

The Bernstein analyst notes that Dish has expressed optimism that its late-2011 results will be strong, which would not be a positive for DirecTV.

Still, Moffett was bullish regarding DirecTV as an investment, with its shares trading Wednesday at around $44 -- down from a 52-week high of about $53. Moffett forecasts a return to near the 52-week high in 2012, partly because DirecTV has growth opportunity in Latin America and potential for new household formations in the U.S.

The target price for Dish is staying at $28, right around its trading price Wednesday.

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