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Schlichting out, Schwimmer in as Sling TV's top boss

There's a changing of the guard underway at Sling TV, Dish Network's OTT-TV division.

Warren Schlichting, most recently president of Dish Network's Sling TV over-the-top pay-TV unit, has exited the company just weeks after Dish reported that Sling TV suffered surprisingly steep subscriber losses in the first quarter of 2020.

As part of a broader group of changes impacting Dish's wireless and retail businesses as the company gears up for its move into mobile, the company announced Monday that Michael Schwimmer has succeeded Schlichting as group president of Sling TV.

Schwimmer, a Dish vet who returned to the company last June to head up the company's international business development and strategy, has also served as president and CEO at Fuse Media. Schwimmer, who now reports to Dish President and CEO Erik Carlson, is also taking the helm of Dish Media Sales, the company's advanced advertising unit. Kevin Arrix, SVP of Dish Media Sales, now reports to Schwimmer.

Schlichting joined Dish in 2011 to head up the company's media sales and analytics division, and was later named head of programming. He took charge of Sling TV after former Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch left in August 2018 to become CEO of Pandora (Lynch has since left Pandora to become CEO of Condé Nast).

Losses widening at Sling TV
In a surprise to industry analysts, Sling TV, which has been offering free access to programming in prime-time hours during the pandemic, lost 281,000 subscribers in Q1 2020, ending the period with 2.31 million subs.

Q1 2020 also marked the second straight quarter of Sling TV subscriber losses, causing at least one analyst to wonder if the service, which debuted in February 2015 and operates on razor-thin margins, might be living on borrowed time as Dish starts to put more focus and apply more resources toward its budding mobile/wireless business.

"Is it too early to write Sling's obituary?" Craig Moffett, analyst with MoffettNathanson, posited in a research note issued after Dish's Q1 results. "Sling TV obviously wasn't ever going to be a profitable alternative to satellite TV; even with its price increases, we suspect it is very likely still barely breakeven even at the gross margin level. And it is almost certainly a money loser at the net level. But if it doesn't help profitability, and neither does it help growth, how long will they [Dish] keep supporting it?"

Sling TV isn't the only virtual MVPD to run into trouble during a broader decline of the US pay-TV business. The vMVPD market, which saw the shutdown of Sony's PlayStation Vue in January, cratered in Q1 2020, losing a combined 341,000 subs, including 83,000 OTT customers at AT&T, according to Moffett's estimates.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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