2018: The Year in Satellite

The world of satellite TV has been a quiet one for 2018. While DIRECTV and DISH combined still account for close to one quarter of the pay-TV market, that market is undeniably shrinking. While some people forecast that pay TV in general has only about five years left, I strongly disagree. I think that eventually we will see a nearly-complete shift to streaming, but it will take a lot more than five years.

Fee fights quiet

The good news is that there were very few high-profile channel blackouts this year. Ten years ago it seemed like the threat of channel blackouts was almost constant, but smarter negotiation has meant that there have been fewer blackouts. With declining subscriber numbers across the board, it’s also very hard for broadcasters to argue for higher rates.

Hardware gets stable

DISH thinned out its hardware selections in 2018. It’s clear they’re moving to a largely Hopper-based ecosystem. This includes the Hopper Duo. Duo is a 2-tuner DVR that takes place of the 622/722 generation. It works with the new Hybrid multiswitches. It follows last year’s introduction of the Wally which is a single-tuner receiver that converts to a DVR, quite similar to the 211 which is still available for older customers.

On the DIRECTV side it’s all Genie, all the time. While the H24, H25, and HR24 boxes are still available, the truth is they’ve been out of manufacture for several years. AT&T’s Genie upgrade strategy returns millions of these boxes to them in reusable condition. We’re still working through that pool of refurbs.

One bright spot has been the release of the COM3000 from AT&T. This compact headend allows for over 130 channels of HD in the most compact form ever. It also allows for every TV in a system to have 4K programming. COM3000 looks to revolutionize the way television is delivered to bars, restaurants, hotels and other institutions.

The path forward

I will say that the path forward for satellite television is not as clear as it was five years ago, but don’t think satellite is going anywhere. Satellite television is absolutely dominant in the pay-TV space and with AT&T offering bundle discounts, it’s a great value. Satellite TV is more reliable and offers higher quality than streaming. It’s just a much better option for a lot of customers. While I don’t know if we will ever see growth years like we saw in the 2000s, I expect satellite TV to be strong for quite some time. Both DIRECTV and DISH have satellite capacity that will last for years, and every year both companies continue to have new activations.

Of course both AT&T and DISH have streaming options that will continue to become more and more important to the company, but for many people satellite TV continues to be a perfect fit.