Those angry Fox News viewers weren’t bluffing. Following a nasty carriage dispute that led to a three-week blackout of Fox News Channel, Dish Network Corp. on Monday posted a net loss of 63,000 pay-TV subscribers, its largest quarterly loss since August 2013.
The satellite-TV company, which has struggled to retain its customer base amid shifting media habits and increased competition, has lost pay-TV subscribers for three consecutive quarters, shedding 12,000 in the prior quarter and 44,000 in the one before that.
But the most recent quarter was particularly challenging, with customers frustrated by high-profile contract disputes that led to the temporary loss of key programming. Fox News and its sister network, Fox Business, were blocked from Dish Network subscribers from late December to mid-January as Dish battled it out with the networks’ parent company, 21st Century Fox Inc. Fox, which has the largest audience on cable news, saw a dip in its ratings during the blackout. The two sides reached an agreement on Jan. 15.
The loss of subscribers was far greater than the 31,000 analysts had expected, according to a Monday research note by Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson.
The Fox-Dish dispute followed a similar fight between Dish Network and Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting, which led to a month-long blackout of eight channels, including CNN and Adult Swim.
In both cases, Dish endured a deluge of negative publicity while maintaining that it was acting in the best interest of its subscribers. Programming costs are skyrocketing and have been cited as one of the main reasons the average cable bill has gone up.
But it was the loss of Fox News, which has an especially loyal audience, that seemed to galvanize viewers most. For weeks during the blackout, legions of viewers flooded Dish with angry phone calls, emails and social media posts, with some vowing to cancel their subscriptions and others demanding refunds for the blackout period.
Despite the challenging quarter, the exodus was not as large as some had predicted. In January, Tim Carry, vice president of distribution for Fox News and Fox Business, estimated that 90,000 customers dropped Dish as a result of the blackout. As Multichannel News reported, Carry had based his estimate on interactions with the KeepFoxNews.com website.
Dish Network ended the year with approximately 13.98 million pay-TV subscribers, compared with 14.06 million last year.