Puerto Ricans are pretty big fans of satellite TV: Across the island, there were around 145,000 subscribers choosing Dish Network over DirecTV, for example. And that’s a big were.

Hurricane Maria swept through and decimated the island, particularly the electrical grid, which means that Dish Network lost those subscribers and had to take a big write off. While Dish did get some subscribers on the U.S. mainland, overall it still lost about 130,000 satellite subscribers, and those are some unpleasant numbers to talk about.

However, Dish Network also had some very positive news to share. First, the losses in Puerto Rico weren’t quite as bad analysts feared, since reports had estimated 155,000 lost subscriptions when in fact they only lost 129,000. Second – and more interesting to us – is that the losses are being made up by Sling TV, the Dish streaming service.

Streaming: Sling 2
Sling TV has improved, and won viewers over.

In the same period as the losses on the satellite side, Sling TV subscribers grew between 224,000 and 264,000, far above expectations.

Sling TV is an odd beast: It has a great offering, allowing you to pick and choose simple channel packages, but when it come out a couple years ago we were disappointed but the clunky interface and very poor streaming quality. Those have slowly improved over time, and streaming has of course become more popular. So here are a few notable lessons for this surprising change:

  • Streaming is now more of an alternative to satellite than before: This is a tough sell for satellite providers, because they are currently trying to convince cable buyers to drop cable in favor of satellite, not the cheaper streaming. Sling TV’s cheapest package is currently $20 per month for a slew of popular channels. This is weird, because satellite isn’t well-placed to compete directly against streaming. The fact that consumers are choosing between the two is putting the market in an odd place.
  • It’s not just young customers: Dish reports that they are also seeing surprising activity across all ages. That means older folks are feeling more comfortable about turning to streaming, especially since it’s offered by a recognizable TV brand.
  • Dish is probably going to become a target: Specifically, major telecom companies may get very interested in buying Sling TV. This is going to be a difficult decision for Dish Network. Just how much does the satellite company want to transition into streaming? Does it see Sling as a side project, or a core part of its business? Answering these questions is going to become very important in the coming year.

Tyler Lacoma

When he isn't enjoying the beautiful Northwest outdoors, you can find Tyler on business and tech sites, writing about the latest news, analyzing trends, and generally making the Internet a more interesting place.

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