Advanced Television

Dish, DirecTV keen to merge?

June 11, 2023

Charlie Ergen, the founder and billionaire owner of US pay-TV broadcaster Dish Network, has talked for a couple of years about the “inevitability” of merging with arch-rival DirecTV. Both are losing subscribers at a worrying rate, and common sense suggests that a merger is the only route to saving cash, exploiting synergies and reducing the cost of premium programming.

But Ergen has another worrying venture: his new 5G cellular wireless project. A report in the New York Post says that he is “desperate” to raise money to finish building out the 5G system.

“He is trying to sell everything that is non-core and to finance assets that are financeable,” one source told the newspaper. “The problem is there are only very small things to sell. It’s a drop in the bucket.”

The market doesn’t much care for Ergen’s prospects. His Dish shares are worth (at about $7.40) barely half what they were a year ago, and perhaps even more worrying is a report (issued in mid-April) from analysts at MoffettNathanson which used the dreaded “B” for bankruptcy word for Dish’s prospects.

Unfortunately the clock is ticking. There’s an FCC obligation in place to build out 75 per cent of the 5G cellular network. A first stage of 70 per cent must be in place by the end of this month, but the additional 5 per cent is seen as an expensive obligation. Ergen might “buy time” by asking for an FCC relaxation on the 2025 obligation to hit a 75 per cent build-out.

But, either way, the market is concerned. The merger with DirecTV has “stalled” says the report. and with Dish subscribers churning away his cash-cow is no longer delivering the money needed to invest in the 5G project.

However, Ergen is a clever bird and it would be foolish to write him – or his projects – off just yet.

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