What happened

Shares of DISH Network (DISH) fell as much as 15.7% and ended the trading day down 14% on Thursday, after the company released an underwhelming third-quarter earnings report.

The provider of DISH satellite cable TV, the SLING skinny bundle, and Boost Mobile prepaid wireless plans is up against some tough societal changes, and it lost subscribers in each of its businesses.

A businessman winces while he's on the phone.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

In the quarter, DISH's revenue fell 1.8%, meeting analysts' low expectations, but earnings per share of $0.88 fell short of profit projections.

DISH endured the loss of 13,000 pay TV subscribers, compared with an addition of 116,000 last year. As many know, the cable pay TV bundle is facing long-term declines, though DISH's large presence in rural parts of the nation without access to fast broadband should allow it to retain these pay TV customers for longer than the overall industry. So to see declines was disappointing, even as many are now moving over to streaming. DISH Network saw a 6% decline in satellite subscribers, while the skinny OTT Sling bundle grew subscribers by 4% -- not enough to offset legacy declines. Increased content costs also lowered margins.

In addition, DISH's new wireless segment lost 121,000 subscribers to end with a total of 8.77 million. That was also disappointing, as that segment is supposed to be a potential growth business for the company.

Now what

DISH investors may have been disappointed by results, but the long term could be better. DISH is attempting to build out its own 5G network platform to become the fourth major wireless telecom in the U.S., and that will probably dictate its future. Investors, however, won't know the success of that venture for years.

DISH's stock is quite cheap after the sell-off, at just 8.7 times trailing earnings. However, its core business is facing stagnation or decline, and its new 5G venture is highly uncertain. As such, it remains a risky stock, albeit with potential upside should the 5G effort pay off.