Hard Times Ahead?

So yeah, we know: The hard times are already HERE, with home foreclosures, sagging incomes and a consumer squeeze of tight money, tight job markets and rising prices. But starting this Wednesday, we'll find out just how hard things are for the dish heads among us.

Wednesday is the day that DIRECTV reports its first quarter numbers. DISH comes out the following Tuesday. And according to the observations of at least one industry analyst, the numbers could be disappointing. Not just because of the bad economy. But because the wired ones, of both telco and cable varieties, have been doing quite well.

Here's how the argument, from Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research, runs: Thus far in the Q1 reporting season, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner have all unveiled their latest sub counts. Taken as a whole, the numbers look good, with basic video subs up by 176,000. By itself, that number shouldn't blow you out of the water. But add in the second data nugget from Moffett's latest report and the outlooks appears a bit grimmer: That is, in the past quarter, an estimated 100K fewer new homes (houses, rental units etc) have been added to the market.

Ergo smaller pie. Ergo your win is my loss.

We've been making this zero-sum-game argument for at least a year now. And we know that the first quarter of every year is almost always a difficult one for DBS. It is, in the words of a friend of ours, a time "when you can't buy subscribers" for satellite services. So we haven't been expecting great things in the Q1 reports from DIRECTV and DISH. But we've got to admit, we'll be watching closely on Wednesday when that first conference call rolls around.