Talk about making everything bigger. I don't like this. There goes competition, and raised prices too.
-------- Original Message -------- Subject: Ergen Could Be Serious About Sirius Date: Sat, 14 Feb 2009 05:08:30 -0500 From: Ray T. Mahorney <coffee-craver@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> Reply-To: Blind-chit-chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx To: <blind-chit-chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> February 13, 2009, 12:01AM EST Ergen Could Be Serious About Sirius The CEO of EchoStar and Dish Network may need the troubled radio company as bad as Sirius needs him: His satellite TV business is losing customers By Ron Grover BusinessWeekhttp://www.businessweek.com/print/technology/content/feb2009/tc20090212_430066.htm <http://www.businessweek.com/print/technology/content/feb2009/tc20090212_430066.htm>
No one is a bigger tightwad than Charlie Ergen. The 55-year-old Ergen, a poker-playing former financial analyst for Frito-Lay , got his start in satellite TV by selling one of those giant backyard dishes from the back of a pickup. Even after he built Dish Network into the fastest-growing satellite TV company, he insisted that even his top executives fly coach and stay two to a hotel room when traveling. So it's no surprise that Ergen saw opportunity in scooping up debt held by the troubled satellite radio company Sirius XM. Wall Street sources say Ergen bought the bonds on the cheap as a possible precursor to a takeover. Talk about a skinflint entrée to a new, if struggling, business. But the purchases are more than a bargain hunt. Ergen may need Sirius as badly as the near-bankrupt radio company may need him. Dish Network, after years of gaining on cable companies and outpacing rival DirecTV, has fallen hard from its orbit. Dish recently lost its alliance with AT&T, which bundled Dish's service with its phone offerings. The partnership accounted for much of what little growth Dish has registered in its 13.7 million subscriber base. Worse, AT&T now works with DirecTV, leaving Dish with no large phone company to help goose sales. In the quarter that ended Sept. 30, Dish lost 10,000 subscribers. The company's 9% earnings increase, to $223.7 million, was mostly a result of increasing customers' bills-not exactly a recipe for long-term success, especially in a market where consumers are curtailing nonessential spending. Ergen also lost a big legal battle recently when Dish was ordered to pay $104.6 million in damages to TiVo for violating patents on TiVo digital video recorders. Dish is appealing the decision. Bankruptcy Attractions No wonder Ergen is nosing around. "He's an entrepreneur," says Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett. "He is always looking for his next business." Ergen could derive a lot of benefits from an acquisition of Sirius XM, Moffett says. For starters, the company could use the bankruptcy proceedings to drive down costs, including deals with carmakers, which share profits with Sirius for pushing new subscriptions. Sirius would join a long list of other ventures that Ergen has been considering in order to shift focus from the slower-growing satellite TV business. He now aims to reach consumers when they're away from home, says Tuna Amobi, who follows Sirius and Dish for Standard & Poor's, which like BusinessWeek is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies. In late 2007, Ergen paid $380 million for Slingbox, a technology that lets people view cable or satellite service while traveling. Ergen's other company is EchoStar, which was split off from Dish to develop Slingbox and other technologies. EchoStar has introduced the service for Apple iPhones and Research In Motion BlackBerrys. Where does Sirius XM fit? It's unlikely Ergen could use Sirius' existing satellites, which are configured for radio use, but he might be able to make use of a satellite that Sirius expects to be delivered next year. Dish could also market its TV service jointly with the radio service and make use of other Sirius operations, Amobi says. The bigger question is whether Ergen gets Sirius XM at all. Clearly, Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin doesn't want Ergen to take control. (Wonder why? In 2004, when Karmazin was Viacom president, Ergen yanked Viacom's MTV and Nickelodeon from his Dish during a contract dispute, then put Karmazin's home phone number on the screen in their place to encourage angry viewers to call.) Karmazin is said to be seeking out Liberty Media and its billionaire Chairman John Malone as a "white knight," according to news reports. No doubt Karmazin is hoping that Liberty, which also owns DirecTV, will head off Ergen. EchoStar, which is said to be accumulating the bonds, refused to comment, as did a representative of Liberty. Another Game of Poker? As useful as Sirius XM could be, the frugal Ergen is unlikely to throw around big bucks to win a business he'll have to recapitalize for a sum that could reach hundreds of millions of dollars. It's not that he doesn't have the funds-as of Sept. 30, EchoStar had more than $970 million in cash. "I don't see Charlie stepping into a bidding war," says one longtime associate. In fact, maybe that's exactly what Karmazin is hoping for: Bring in someone to put some money on the table and watch the cheapskate take a hike. Then again, Ergen may be engaged in just another game of poker, albeit one with high stakes. He's already into the bidding, even if he bought the Sirius bonds for pennies on the dollar. Malone or anyone else who wants to buy Sirius has to settle with Ergen first, since he is the main bondholder. Maybe Ergen simply pushes back, forcing the company into bankruptcy by not accepting whatever Malone might want to pay for the $175 million that comes due on Feb. 17. But there's no denying Ergen needs Sirius badly enough to throw in a few more bucks to win control. The old Ergen wouldn't do that, to be sure. But times change. 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