This was a lousy day for DirecTV after it reported lower-than-expected earnings, with especially weak results in Latin America. But CEO Michael White gave investors at least one reason to stick with the company: He signaled in a call with analysts that he’d be receptive to the idea of a merger with Dish Network. “I don’t think it’s productive for me to speculate what regulators may or may not do, but the competitive landscape is very different than it was 10 years ago” when the FCC rejected a Dish-DirecTV merger plan, he said. For one thing, “the balance [of power] between content distributors and providers is out of whack.” He has long charged that programmers are demanding dangerously high new fees for their content –a position he reiterated today. “I’ve seen more customer complaints about the price increases,” he says. “My own view is that it’s not going to change in the short term. But it’s clear that this isn’t sustainable beyond the next couple of years. Something is going to have to give.” He adds that Liberty Media’s John Malone, who wants cable and satellite companies to consolidate to help them fight programmers, “is 100% correct. Scale matters.” So does technology, especially as DirecTV considers strategies to avoid paying high retransmission consent fees to broadcasters. It has considered offering customers antennas to receive local signals for free. In addition, “we looked at what Aereo is doing” with its controversial local TV streaming service that broadcasters say infringes on their copyrights. “We’ll see how their legal case progresses…If the costs get to a certain point, then everything is on the table.” White acknowledged that Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has other priorities now as he tries to build a national wireless broadband service. “It always takes two to dance,” White says, and Ergen is “committed to other ideas and strategies that would be different from our views on strategy. But you never say never.” Investors who bet on a merger will have “white-knuckle moments,” says independent analyst Craig Moffett. Even so, “a merger between DirecTV and Dish Network would be so compelling for both companies that it is worth waiting for even as the fundamentals begin to show the long-awaited signs of erosion.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.