February 21, 2018 / 11:33 AM / 10 months ago

UPDATE 4-Dish says Sling TV has 2.2 million subscribers

* Dish discloses Sling TV subscribers for first time

* Added 160,000 subscribers for Sling TV in Q4

* Lost 121,000 Dish TV subscribers in Q4

* Shares down 2 pct (Adds comments from conference call, updates shares)

By Sonam Rai

Feb 21 (Reuters) - Dish Network Corp said on Wednesday its online streaming service, Sling TV, added 160,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, disclosing numbers for the first time and providing an overall figure of 2.21 million.

Dish has been losing customers as they move away from satellite TV packages to online streaming services such as Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc's Prime Video.

The total subscribers for Sling pales in comparison with Netflix's about 118 million worldwide or Amazon Prime Video's 40 million, but they have been accumulated from scratch in just two years at a time when other cable TV providers are struggling.

At a post-earnings call with analysts on Wednesday, Chairman Charlie Ergen responding to a question on slower growth for Sling TV said he was not worried about that, but did note that monthly churn is high across all the online streaming services as many people sign up for free trials and then cancel.

Dish had 14 million subscribers in January 2015 when it launched Sling TV at $20 per month to target younger consumers avoiding pricey cable and satellite subscriptions.

However, the company posted a loss of another 121,000 subscribers for Dish TV in the fourth quarter and said revenue from its total 13.24 million users of both services fell.

Jefferies analyst Scott Goldman said Dish's average revenue per user of $84.63 was below his estimate of $85.71 and Wall Street estimate of $86.10.

New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin said the results were "not great", but that the primary value of the satellite business is to provide cash flow while Ergen seeks to monetize the rights it has accumulated to radio frequencies.

Dish has spent billions buying up wireless airwaves, or spectrum, in recent years, making it a potential acquisition target for U.S. wireless carriers.

The company faces a Federal Communications Commission deadline of 2021 to build its first wireless network.

Thomas Cullen, executive vice president of corporate development, told a post-earnings call that the company expects to spend up to $1 billion to complete Phase I of the network by March 2020.

Dish's revenue fell 7.2 percent in the fourth quarter to $3.48 billion, missing analysts' average estimate of $3.53 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company's shares were down 1.4 percent at $43.93 in afternoon trade.

Dish added about 39,000 pay-TV subscriber on a net basis in the quarter, including 75,000 reactivations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that were removed after Hurricane Maria.

Net income jumped to $1.39 billion from $355 million a year earlier due to a $1.2 billion benefit related to U.S. tax law reforms.

Excluding that and other one-time items, Dish earned 57 cents per share, topping analysts' estimates by 2 cents. (Reporting by Sonam Rai, Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru, Jessica Toonkel in New York; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Maju Samuel)

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