Wall Streeters love to speculate about Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen’s plans. And he has just given them fresh reasons to mull his options with the No. 2 satellite company’s disclosure late yesterday that it has agreed to pick up several operations from another Ergen-controlled company: EchoStar Corporation.
Dish shares are up 2.8% in early trading today after it said it will gain EchoStar’s 10% stake in Sling TV, wireless spectrum licenses in four markets, a hardware and software development group, a national and regional uplink business, and a fiber backhaul network that serves all U.S. markets.
In return, Dish is giving EchoStar its 80% interest in Hughes Retail Group. The companies expect the deal to close by the end of March.
“With this transaction we will vertically integrate all the elements that define our customer experience — one team will deliver the full Dish and Sling TV experience end to end,” Dish president Erik Carlson says. “Not only do we gain full control of product development roadmap for DBS and Sling TV but we also anticipate achieving operational efficiencies.”
But some analysts believe Ergen has bigger plans to help him keep pace with the consolidation in pay TV with deals including AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV, and Charter’s purchase of Time Warner Cable.
Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker says he’s probably “cleaning these two companies up for a reason” that could include “something transformative post the broadcast incentive auction” which is entering the final lap at the FCC.
Barclays’ Kannan Venkateshwar also says it’s “tough to ignore the timing of the transaction” with the auction to free some TV airwave spectrum for wireless broadband.
Dish “appears to be concentrating its wireless assets into one entity along with technology assets that can potentially help with video offerings” such as DirecTV Now, he adds. Dish’s assets could help “the overall strategic positioning of a potential combination” with a wireless company.
Verizon’s been seen as a potential buyer — which is why Dish shares took a hit last week after the Wall Street Journal reported that the wireless giant was interested in a deal with Charter.
MoffettNathanson Research’s Craig Moffett noted that Dish could be left without a partner due to “the bewildering number of alternative strategic paths being considered by not just Verizon, but by every company in the sector.”