DISH Network lost 273,000 television subscribers in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2021, ending 2021 with 10.71 million, compared to 11.060 million a year previously. That includes 2.48 million Sling TV online television subscribers, a decline of 70,000 in the last quarter. A merger of the DISH and DIRECTV satellite services remains a possibility, while DISH appears more interested in pursuing prospects in wireless services.

DISH Network lost 203,000 traditional DISH TV subscribers in the last quarter and 595,000 over the year. DISH Network activated 835,000 new DISH TV subscribers in 2021, compared to just over a million the year before, but monthly subscriber churn increased to 1.6% in the last quarter.

The number of Sling TV subscribers fell by 70,000 in the quarter but remains comparable to a year previously, compared to a loss of 118,000 the year before.

Average revenue per television subscriber rose to $97.53 a month, up from $94.47 a year before.

DISH reported annual revenue of $17.88 billion, compared to $15.49 billion in 2020. Net income was $2.41 billion, compared to $1.76 billion the year before.

Despite the declining television subscriber numbers, DISH Network remains a profitable business. Television still provides most of the revenue for DISH Network, $12.93 billion in 2020, and the vast majority of its operating income.

Chief executive Erik Carlson told analysts: “We need to do a better job in our subscriber targets”. He said the loss of television subscribers was driven by several factors, the most significant being a programming dispute for most of the American football season, which has now been resolved.

“We kept DISH TV very profitable with a disciplined and smart marketing expenditures. We managed to focus on acquiring and retaining long-term profitable customers,” he said. “We played where we’re strongest in rural America with higher credit quality customers.”

On Sling TV, he said: “Simply put, we didn’t execute operationally in the fourth quarter to the level that we expect of ourselves.” The company has been re-engineering the platform and the user interface, with feedback from customers.

“Sling is a profitable business that will grow,” he said. “It’s going to require a little patience, but with the platform overhaul last year, we’re now positioned to be able to innovate and enhance the customer experience with new features and differentiated offerings.”

Charlie Ergen, the chairman of DISH Network, was again asked about the prospects of a merger with rival satellite television provider DIRECTV. He restated his view that a merger was a matter of time, and price. He said the regulatory reasons to prevent it no longer exist, presumably due to increased competition across multiple platforms.

“I think it’s inevitable that DISH and DIRECTV go together,” he said. Otherwise, both companies will just melt away, and there’ll be no service for customers.”