Just over a week ago, major Colorado-based US satellite television provider DISH Network unexpectedly announced that it will allow its 14 million subscribers the opportunity to begin paying with bitcoin later this year through a partnership with Coinbase.
With the news, DISH immediately became the largest business to accept bitcoin, surpassing Overstock, the online retail giant that began accepting bitcoin in January.
By current market capitalization, DISH is about 73 times larger than Overstock, and generates 10 times the money – $13bn in revenue last year versus $1.3bn for Overstock.
But, the addition to DISH is notable beyond the company's size. DISH also represents something new for bitcoin's merchant ecosystem, as its business model and customer base are markedly different than those of Overstock and online electronics giant TigerDirect.
For one, DISH is a service provider, not a retailer. As such, its unique needs could lead to potential changes in how bitcoin's merchant processors target this largely untapped portion of the market.
Further, these differences could also have an impact on the success DISH sees serving the bitcoin market, and by extension, whether its earnings convince more merchants to seek out bitcoin payments.
Service vs product
Perhaps most importantly, reports suggest DISH will use bitcoin for online billing, meaning subscribers paying in BTC will need to log in to their accounts every month and make payment manually.
There haven't been many companies that accept bitcoin for a service to date, and for good reason: Coinbase and its competitors do not yet offer a recurring payments option in the traditional sense, an issue that is often cited by members of subscription-based businesses like adult entertainment to explain why bitcoin has not taken off the way some had expected.
Yet Coinbase did recently launch a 'pull' function for recurring bitcoin payments. And the relationship with DISH may force further development into this feature, especially if the manual payment method is too cumbersome for DISH customers.
DISH's decision may also be more strategic than many realize, especially as it looks to fight the effects of yet another disruptive technology affecting its industry – online streaming.
Though the company has not publicly made this claim, bitcoin could be a savvy way for the company to move toward newer content models such as those pioneered by Netflix and Amazon Prime that have attracted younger demographics.
Earlier this year DISH Network CEO Joseph Clayton told FierceCable his company is facing challenges as viewing habits change:
"These younger folks are not going to pay $100 a month for their content. They may pay $20 or $30. They're not going to watch 250 channels a year. They may watch 20 or 30, if that. And they're not going to watch it on a 60-inch, flat panel display. They're going to watch it on their smartphone or tablet or their PC."
Based on the graph below, however, it doesn't appear as though DISH is suffering through a major decline in subscribers. Still, it could be wise for the company to consider new initiatives and forward-thinking technologies that make these services easier to deliver.
As nearly one-quarter of accepting merchants have acknowledged, bitcoin is also a cost-effective marketing strategy, a factor that may have also weighed in on DISH's decision.
That's because many businesses realize that accepting bitcoin is a win-win proposition. By taking BTC payments, businesses are able to reap higher margins because they avoid credit card fees.
DISH has been known as an organization that carefully watches expenses. Ad Age reported in 2009 that DISH was spending hundreds of millions in marketing per year. Bitcoin could be seen as a way for the company to reduce these costs, or at the very least, earn free exposure.
Already DISH has seen some success in this regard. DISH's decision to accept bitcoin led to articles about the company in major publications such as the The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Reuters.
The decision could also save DISH on another key expense.
If DISH customers end up paying their bills in bitcoin, the company's margins could potentially increase, provided they can help the company spend less in merchant transaction fees.
There's relatively little risk for DISH in accepting bitcoin – and plenty to gain. The company's revenue continues to grow, but it appears that as a byproduct margins are sinking as costs escalate.
By the company's sheer economies of scale, DISH could help bitcoin and vice versa in terms of adoption.
Demographics and exposure
Online commerce is probably the easiest way for people to spend bitcoin right now, and DISH can be a leader in that space. It seems, however, that a 'wow' factor of making recurring bitcoin payments work would be better than just the manual payment it intends to offer.
We have seen that in the offline world, food seems to be a popular product people like to buy with their bitcoin. It could be the social aspects of eating that have determined this trend.
Given the demographics of bitcoin users versus that of DISH network, it is questionable there will be material gains for the company in subscribers.
However, the exposure bitcoin may garner as a result is something that should not be overlooked.
That being said, bitcoin's path towards becoming a mainstream method of payment is only in its early stage. Right now, the level of interest in bitcoin is not where it has been in the past, according to searches being conducted by Google.
DISH's eventual acceptance of the cryptocurrency will be a positive development. What's interesting is that DISH has not yet announced a date to implement its bitcoin payment option – helping it to string along a series of positive stories about it embracing bitcoin.
The company will continue to look for free bitcoin-related publicity. And ultimately, this works out in both bitcoin and DISH's favour.
Despite uncertainty that subscribers of satellite services will look to DISH in particular because of BTC acceptance, this is a positive development. It is news that only serves to bolster awareness surrounding bitcoin.
Satellite Dish image via Shutterstock