Dish Network floats merger with DirecTV over pace of cord-cutting

The two biggest satellite TV providers — Dish Network and DirecTV — may be looking to merge, according to Dish chairman Charlie Ergen, who called a potential merger with its biggest satellite rival “inevitable” on the company’s Q4 earnings call, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The news comes as Dish reports that in Q4 2019 it lost 100,000 satellite TV subscribers, along with roughly 94,000 Sling TV subscribers — the first time Sling TV’s subscribers have ever gone down. The drop in satellite customers isn’t nearly as bad as Dish reported a year ago, when it lost 386,000 subscribers, but it’s certainly not a good trend to see. All told, Dish lost a net total of 511,000 subscribers in 2019, compared to a loss of about 1.13 million in 2018.

It’s that ongoing downward trend that led Ergen to comment that Dish and DirecTV “should get together,” noting that “the growth in TV is not coming from linear TV providers, but from huge programmers.” It’s not entirely clear what a merger would look like, given that DirecTV is currently owned by AT&T, but a sale of the satellite portion of AT&T’s TV business to Dish seems like a distinct possibility, especially given AT&T’s focus on new streaming initiatives like HBO Max.

Ergen went on to note that there would likely be regulatory issues to work out — after all, Dish and DirecTV already make up a considerable portion of the satellite market, and had already been barred from merging back in 2002 over concerns of eliminating competition. But the increased pressure from nontraditional internet TV services and streaming is taking a toll. “You just can’t swim upstream against a real tide of big players,” Ergen said.