Updated from 11:47 a.m. EDTEchoStar Communications ( DISH) just broke its subscription losing streak. In the first quarter ended March 31, the direct broadcast satellite provider added 350,000 net new subscribers, EchoStar said Tuesday. That's up from 335,000 additions in the first quarter of 2002. Meanwhile, EchoStar CEO Charlie Ergen told analysts he had plenty of concerns about the proposed deal in which the Australia-based News Corporation ( NWS), led by Rupert Murdoch, would take control of Hughes Electronics ( GMH), the parent company of DBS operator DirecTV. Given Murdoch's control of numerous media properties, said Ergen Tuesday, "you've got a lot of potential for mischief." The uptick in EchoStar's subscriber additions, which came in well ahead of analysts' sub-300,000 estimates, marks the first quarter in two years in which EchoStar has shown increased subscriber gains on a year-over-year basis. The first-quarter performance calls into question -- at least temporarily -- the perception that direct broadcast satellite service growth rates are on an irreversible decline. In recent years, both EchoStar's Dish Network and DirecTV have shown much stronger subscriber growth than cable operators. But the number of net new subscribers has continued to decline on a year-over-year basis. Operators' ability to stave off those declines -- especially as News Corp. prepares to take control of DirecTV, and as cable giant Comcast ( CMCSA) labors to revive systems previously owned by AT&T ( T) -- looms large in investors' assessment of satellite TV value.
Star Power EchoStar subscriber additions rising
Source:EchoStar press releases, Detox
After setting a 52-week high of $32.58 Tuesday morning, EchoStar's shares traded at $32.21, up $1.58, or 5%. Shares in the operator have climbed steadily from last summer's 52-week low of $13.41.
The subscriber count, which now totals 8.53 million, wasn't the only good news in the first-quarter results EchoStar released Tuesday.