Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen was peppered with questions in his quarterly call with analysts and reporters about the recent deal with Disney opening the way for a Web-delivered, low-priced personal video service that will offer a slimmed-down collection of pay TV channels. He says there’s still some work to be done on the technology, and in lining up programming partners in addition to Disney. “We’re comfortable launching with what we have, but think there may be some more programmers who’ll want to experiment with this,” Ergen says. It’s designed to appeal to people who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite, especially those who consider them to be too expensive.
The goal is to make it profitable by charging high rates to advertisers who want to target their sales pitches by owner, location, or other metrics. “We know if you’ve had a car for eight years or you’ve gone to look for a car, [and] we can download a car ad — as opposed to if you just bought a car last week….We can do local commercials down to the address of the house.” The ad pie “someday will be huge.” And it would be “malpractice” for Dish to “put our head in the sand and obsolete ourselves.” Although pay TV subscription numbers are holding up, the phenomenon of cord-cutting is “like the lobster that gets boiled. You don’t know that you’re dead and boiled until it’s too late.” Meanwhile, the deal with Disney repaired a key alliance. “Disney was our worst relationship with a programmer and now I hope it’s our best relationship,” he said.
Ergen also says he’s unfazed by reports that AT&T may agree to buy DirecTV. There’s not much he can do: “We can never outbid an AT&T or Verizon because they have a financial motive [to acquire DirecTV] and we only have a strategic motive….We have no shot.” He also put himself on the sidelines in a run for T-Mobile if Sprint goes after the company. “T-Mobile is Sprint’s to make a decision on,” he says.
He’s comfortable waiting because he’s amassing spectrum rights for a wireless broadband service. He can either use them to build a business, or to sell.
But Ergen still clearly salivated over the “ton of synergies” he’d find from a combination of Dish with DirecTV. He’s “cautiously optimistic” that regulators might approve such a merger. His pitch, if he had the opportunity make it, would be helped if Washington OKs Comcast’s deal with Time Warner Cable. He says the cable giant would have “a virtual monopoly on the broadband side.”
The Dish chairman also hearkened to his days as a card counter in Las Vegas. “The movie always has a twist,” he says. “You want to keep getting cards and wait and see when it’s all out there. Then you make your move.”