Now that Sling TV has launched and Dish Network won a chunk of wireless spectrum, Dish president and CEO Joseph P. Clayton plans to retire.
The Douglas County satellite TV company on Monday said that Clayton, 65, will retire on March 31. Dish founder Charlie Ergen, its chairman, will step back into the role s he left in 2011 to make room for Clayton.
“I’m very appreciative that Joe allowed me to go do some things in the last four years,” Ergen said on Monday’s conference call for its financial results.
Under Clayton, Dish became more customer-focused and user-friendly with products named Joey, the Hopper and DishAnywhere. Its Hopper DVR could record multiple channels. AutoHop let viewers skip commercials by pressing a button. DishAnywhere let subscribers watch their TV service, including recorded shows, on a mobile app.
Clayton also oversaw the January launch of Sling TV, a mobile-app-based service offering live broadcasts of ESPN, HGTV and other typically cable-only networks for $20 a month.
“Joey is the kind of guy who managed the herd,” said Richard Doherty, founder of Envisioneering, a digital and Internet research group. “Customer scores for Dish were not so high (before) Joe came in. They’re much better now.”
“Joe is an icon in the industry,” said Jimmy Schaeffler, an industry analyst with The Carmel Group, who remembers Clayton telling him in 2011 that he planned to stay only three years. “His office isn’t even on the top floor. Joe’s down there in the pits with everyone else.”
Schaeffler believes Clayton will finally retire to his home in Kentucky. Before Dish, Clayton held the top jobs at Sirius Satellite Radio, Global Crossing North America and Frontier Corp.
“(Ergen’s) ready to come back,” Schaeffler added. “Since Joe took over, Charlie shifted strategically from the day-to-day operations to the big picture. … Now that that’s accomplished and those are rolled out, it’s perfect timing for Joe.”
But even Clayton’s infusion of consumer appeal couldn’t combat the decline in TV subscribers. Before he started, Dish had 14.13 million pay-TV customers.
That dropped to 13.98 million at the end of 2014.
Ergen said during Monday’s call that Dish’s pay-TV service is a mature business.
That’s why he made a $13.3 billion bid on wireless spectrum, which could be used to expand video to mobile users, offer Internet or partner with others. Dish joined Northstar Wireless in the bid and last month won 702 licenses. Dish’s investment was $9.8 billion, according to its annual report. Because of a small-business discount, which rivals including AT&T criticized, Dish should get back $899 million.
“It was the best investment we thought we could make with our cash,” Ergen said. “This was the thing that has made the most sense for us in the last five years.”
To the critics, Ergen said, “We went by the rules,” and, he added, that the bids were more than double what many expected. Dish couldn’t have done that without a partner and the discount.
“Where other people may call it artificial or loopholes in the laws or whatever they say, I would just say it’s competition and not everyone wants competition,” Ergen said. “You can’t have it both ways.”
With Ergen returning, Envisioneering’s Doherty says, competitors are getting nervous.
“Now we’re back to Dish where the largest stakeholder, Mr. Ergen himself, is battling for Americans. We’ve got T-Mobile, owned by Germans, and Sprint, owned by the Japanese. And AT&T and Verizon showing how much they care about consumers. That’s a joke,” Doherty said. “Charlie wants to show that we’re not as reliant on satellite as everyone thinks we are. We may see Colorado become home to the third-biggest wireless network soon.”
The other big investment for Dish is Sling TV, which opened to the public two weeks ago.
Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch said it’s too early to comment on the impact because new users were offered a free one-week trial. But he added, “early results are encouraging.”
More important, Lynch said, the changing attitude of programmers is noticeable. A few years ago when Lynch and Ergen began talking about the service, “There was a lot of trepidation (by programmers) about, ‘Am I upsetting the apple cart?’ ” he said.
“Today, if I could contrast to four years ago, we have more programmers concerned about not being on the platform rather than joining the platform,” Lynch said.
Ergen also briefly discussed other concerns, such as combining with T-Mobile or finding a new CEO, and said everything is being considered. Ultimately, he said, Dish is interested in making “decisions on how to move our business forward”
Dish may have seen a drop in pay TV subscribers, but other parts of the business improved. Its satellite broadband service saw a 32 percent jump in customers, ending the year at 577,000 customers, compared with 436,000 a year earlier.
In 2014, Dish reported net income of $944.7 million on revenue of $14.6 billion, compared with the prior year’s income of $807.5 million on $13.9 billion in revenue.
Tamara Chuang: 303-954-1209, email@example.com or twitter.com/Gadgetress