Baldridge replaces Dankberg as Viasat CEO

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SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Dankberg, Viasat founder, chairman and CEO, moved into the newly created role of executive chairman Nov. 3 as Rick Baldridge, Viasat’s former chief operating officer, became Viasat’s new CEO while retaining his role as president.

“I’ve held the CEO title for almost 35 years, but Rick has been doing most of the executive management for the last few years,” Dankberg said during a Nov. 5 Viasat earnings call. “I’m happy he accepted the CEO position.”

In his new role, Baldridge is focused primarily on the three-satellite ViaSat-3 constellation and getting ready for the launch of the first satellite, Viasat-3 Americas, in late 2021.

In preparation for that launch, Viasat is working in Mexico, Central America and Brazil to establish its distribution network. In addition, the company is beginning to test its Viasat-3 ground network with existing satellites.

“There’s a lot of work that has to be done: partnerships, distribution networks and making sure we have the right talent in those regions at the right time,” Baldridge told SpaceNews.

Viasat reported $554 million in revenues for the second quarter of its 2021 fiscal year, a $38 million decrease from the same period a year earlier, due primarily to the drop in commercial airline traffic caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quarterly revenues also declined for Viasat’s Government Systems business due to the pandemic. Still, Viasat Government Systems won contracts valued at more than $785 million during the first half of the 2021 fiscal year.

Viasat’s fixed broadband business gained 5,000 subscribers during the quarter with an average revenue per user of slightly more than $100, “driven by subscribers choosing higher bandwidth, higher value data plans,” according to Viasat’s quarterly shareholder letter.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on Viasat’s in-flight connectivity business, which is down more than 50% from pre-pandemic levels. Still, Viasat continues to establish in-flight connectivity partnerships, announcing a deal forged months ago with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines but not announced until now.

Viasat remains interested in establishing a low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband constellation, which would offer low-latency links, even though the company’s first priority is offering customers high-speed connectivity and extensive bandwidth.

“Latency is important but we don’t think it is decisive,” Dankberg said during the earnings call. “What we think is decisive is the ability to get a lot of bandwidth for video streaming.”

In addition to considering a LEO broadband constellation, Viasat has been beta testing a network that combines satellite and terrestrial service to reduce latency.

“There are technical complications, but we found that when we add low-latency terrestrial to our satellite service, people’s satisfaction goes up,” Dankberg said. “We’ve been doing it with DSL generally and we are expanding to do it wirelessly. LEO is not the only way to achieve low latency at scale.”

Viasat is one of the companies eligible to compete in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which offers $20.4 billion in broadband subsidies via a reverse auction. During the earnings call, company officials declined to comment on the program.