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Dish's move to accept bitcoin seen as effective marketing maneuver

Bitcoin
Analysts: @Dish accepting #bitcoin is primarily a marketing move
.@Dish becomes one of largest companies and first TV provider to accept #bitcoin
Idea to accept #bitcoin came from within @dish

Add Dish satellite TV subscriptions to the growing list of products and services that can be bought with bitcoin, joining Tesla cars, Zynga video games and goods on Overstock.com.

Dish customers can start making one-time payments with bitcoin by the end of September through it’s website, the company announced Thursday.

Bitcoin, introduced in 2009, is an online-only currency that has drawn significant attention from investors and the media after several volatile price swings over the past months.

Dish will partner with bitcoin exchange Coinbase to immediately trade bitcoin for U.S. dollars, which analysts say will remove some of the risk involved in dealing with the currency's highly fluctuating value.

In a statement, Chief Executive Bernie Han said Dish wanted to give customers the chance to pay by the most convenient method possible.

“We always want to deliver choice and convenience for our customers and that includes the method they use to pay their bills,” Han said in a statement. “Bitcoin is becoming a preferred way for some people to transact and we want to accommodate those individuals.”

The idea for accepting bitcoin came from Dish employees who use the virtual currency; the company said it didn't know how many customers will pay subscriptions with bitcoin.

Merely accepting bitcoin won’t have too much of a financial effect on Dish, according to analyst Amy Yong of Macquarie Capital Securities. Rather, the move is an indication of Dish’s willingness to embrace and invest in new technologies, like the Hopper DVR, she said, which can record up to six channels at a time and store up to 2,000 hours of programming.

“I think it just goes to show you that they are very forward thinking, which is not how a lot of people think about satellite and linear TV,” she said.

With 14 million subscribers, Dish holds around 13% of the pay-TV market, according to Forbes. Competitor DirectTV, which holds a nearly $14-billion market cap advantage over Dish as well as 5 million more subscribers, recently agreed to be purchased by AT&T for $48.5 billion.

Risk management analyst and former Federal Reserve Bank examiner Mark Williams said Dish’s move is more of an outreach effort to younger customers and isn’t necessarily an endorsement of the virtual currency.

“I’m not sure there was a lot of risk-management analysis that went into this,” he said. “I expect this was driven more from their marketing department.”

Williams, who is also an executive-in-residence at the Boston University School of Management, said that recent financial news for bitcoin, including SEC and IRS rulings, makes it difficult to use bitcoin as an effective currency.

Because bitcoin is subject to capital gains tax, a customer will pay differing tax amounts based on when they purchased their bitcoin. That tax complication, coupled with the still significant risk of intense price fluctuations, means that risk is still involved in accepting and using bitcoin, even if Dish is going through a third party, Williams said.

“The market will decide if virtual currency is a winner,” he said. “It’s not going to be told by a proclamation … it's really market forces that are going to put it where it belongs.” 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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