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Dish’s plan - “Like a Seinfeld episode,” will come together at the end

When we were quite small we were first told there are two sides to every story


Published: 5 May, 2011


When we were quite small we were first told there are two sides to every story. While we see a great future for TiVo after its landmark $500 million settlement with Dish Networks and related supplier EchoStar, the US financial market had eyes only for the other side of the story, the rising value of Dish, now that there is no longer a chance that it would have to switch off 4 million DVRs.

We’re never sure why anyone would ever think that was a possibility – sure it’s what the court case called for, but it offers too great an opportunity for TiVo to gather a huge amount of licensing cash and to secure future licensing revenues from others that don’t want to be under the same scrutiny as Dish. A settlement was always going to happen unless Dish won, and that never looked like happening.

But with this negative finally, inexorably removed, the various Dish upsides became compelling, the best of which was its strong quarterly result, but when added to Dish’s purchase of Blockbuster, its previous auction wins in UHF spectrum, its recent purchase of DBSD with its MSS spectrum and functioning satellite, and its debt liens on further MSS spectrum, combined with the potential of a tight relationship in the future with TiVo, it all became too much for investors not to sit up and notice and the stock added over $1 billion or 20%, in a single afternoon.

This week Dish brought in quarterly revenues of $3.22 billion, up 5.5%, a massive improvement in net income to $549 million and added 58,000 subscribers to end with 14.2 million, when in previous quarters it has been losing customers .

We have tried at Faultline to outguess the community here, and work out just HOW those other things – Blockbuster, TiVo license and Spectrum - can come together into some new direction for Dish, and we can’t quite see it. The reason we can’t quite see it is because, as is clear from the Q&A around the Dish results, even Charlie Ergen can’t quite see it either. Charlie is a mean poker player and the told analysts that Dish has a hard plan to bring all of these components together, but then he undermines that by pointing out that every time a major networking company makes a move – AT&T bids for T-Mobile USA for instance – it changes the landscape and it means he has to keep his powder dry and adjust the plan.

There are two ways to think about the potential – either Dish has a plan to bring all these together, and it just needs to secure the right partners, the right funds and the wait for the right time or it has hardly a plan at all, and wants us all to think that it has one, so that it can bluff its poker hand – in other words resell the businesses that it has acquired, at a nice profit.

We happen to think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle and it may well have a fairly firm plan for Blockbuster, and may get some benefits out of finally licensing the TiVo patents, but on the spectrum front it’s likely that it has a plan A, a plan B and a fallback plan at least.

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