UPDATE, 7:39 AM: The total being closed this quarter equals about a third of the 1,500 U.S. outlets Blockbuster had at the end of 2011 — and there may be more closings ahead. The company says in its annual report that it’s responding to the stores’ weak financial performance due to “increasing competition from video rental kiosk, streaming and mail order businesses.” If things get worse, it says, then it may “close additional Blockbuster retail stores.” Dish hopes to keep Blockbuster at break-even. Since April 26, when Dish acquired Blockbuster, the video retailer has had an operating loss of $1.2M on revenues of $974.9M. Dish CEO Joe Clayton told analysts in a conference call this morning that the vast majority of the stores to be shuttered have lease terms that give the company flexibility to back away. The company says the shut down cost will be “minimal.”
Meanwhile, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen says he’s eagerly waiting to hear whether the FCC will approve his $1.4B agreement to buy wireless spectrum from TerreStar — a step that he says is necessary to offer new broadband services. The agency has a March 12 deadline. Ergen says he proceeded because the Obama administration has said it wants more competition in wireless broadband. “I think we’d be disruptive in the wireless business,” Ergen says. “It would transform not only our company but the way people use wireless in the United States.” If the deal is rejected or delayed then “we’d have to look at other alternatives which would be unfortunate” and could require a write-down. “We’ll wait for the next couple of weeks and see whether we’re in or out.” If he’s in, then he’d have a lot of options to structure his broadband business. “We’re prepared to go it alone,” Ergen says. But he adds that there are also partnerships “that could make a lot of sense for us…. That would potentially be a way to enter the marketplace sooner and minimize risk.” But Ergen says his company can’t continue to focus as much as it has on satellite delivered video. “The business we’re in today and wireless (broadband) are a package deal,” he says. “Right now the cable industry is best positioned to take advantage of that, and AT&T and Verizon. I hope the administration wants some competition to that…. We’d like to play, but you’ve got to get asked to the dance.”
PREVIOUS, 3:55 AM: You can bet that a lot of analysts are grumbling this morning over the odd way that Dish Network reported its Q4 results: The company issued a press release with very few statistics — but also filed its 300+ page annual report at the SEC. In any event, while investors scramble to find the details they want, they can see that the basic numbers are better than the Street expected. The company had net income of $313M, up 24.2% vs the year-end quarter in 2010, on revenues of $3.63B, up 13%. The revenue figure was slightly higher than the $3.62B consensus forecast. But earnings, at 70 cents a share, were well ahead of the expected 62 cents. Dish also says that it added 22,000 subscribers in the quarter, to end the year with just a little under 14M. Most analysts only expected Dish to gain 5,000 — and some thought it would lose customers. For the entire year, Dish is down 166,000. “By introducing new Blockbuster-branded services, we’ve begun to turn the tide in subscriber losses while continuing to face increased competitive pressures,” CEO Joe Clayton said. While investors are interested in Dish’s performance, they’re more curious about its plans. Dish is amassing airwave spectrum to offer wireless broadband services — and is seen as potential candidate to be either a buyer or a seller in a big merger deal.