Lots of company watchers were surprised to see AT&T agree to pay $49.5B for DirecTV figuring that Dish Network — which has been amassing wireless spectrum — would be a more logical target for the telco. But it turns out that Dish chairman Charlie Ergen’s much-discussed but still nascent plan to create a wireless broadband service made his company less attractive. If AT&T tried to buy a potential competitor it “would be likely to raise additional regulatory questions and scrutiny, especially at a time when we have a couple of FCC spectrum auctions scheduled,” CFO John Stephens said this morning at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference. He was careful to note that DirecTV was a first choice, not a runner-up, as he talked up its “premier” network, distribution system, content, and “premier people.”
Stephens reiterated a lot of the selling points AT&T and DirecTV raised this week for the deal including their ability to offer content across multiple screens. Programmers will want to do business with AT&T because its reach in broadband, wireless, and – with DirecTV’s 20M subs – satellite video will make it “a national force.” DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket also is important; AT&T can walk away from the deal if the satellite company doesn’t renew its licensing arrangement. “A combined company has a unique opportunity to offer the NFL” in the negotiations, he says, adding that the content “is important, it is unique.” But since the merger partners still have separate obligations to their shareholders, DirecTV will be responsible for negotiating that deal.