Ergen to Lead Dish Again Armed With $50 Billion in Airwaves

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Does Ergen’s Plan for Dish Include T-Mobile or Verizon?

Dish Network Corp. founder and Chairman Charlie Ergen will retake the reins at the satellite company after accumulating $50 billion in wireless airwaves in preparation for a mobile-based challenge to the pay-TV industry.

Ergen, 61, will take over from Chief Executive Officer Joseph Clayton at the end of March, Dish said Monday. Clayton, 65, will retire after leading the Englewood, Colorado-based company for almost four years.

Investors will focus on how Ergen plans to revive growth at Dish, which lost 79,000 pay-TV subscribers in 2014. The executive, who co-founded Dish more than 30 years ago, contacted Deutsche Telekom AG last year, expressing an interest in buying its T-Mobile US Inc. unit after a deal to merge T-Mobile with Sprint Corp. fell apart, people with knowledge of the matter said at the time.

Ergen is also under pressure to explain his broader strategy after his binge on spectrum and the debut of Sling TV, an online TV service for $20 a month.

“The future of this company is the spectrum and that is Charlie’s call,” said Paul Sweeney, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.

The satellite-TV provider also reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ estimates, while 2014 revenue fell short. Net income jumped 42 percent to $410 million in the last quarter of the year. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization slipped about 9 percent to $807 million, exceeding the $710 million average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Sling TV

Full-year revenue was $14.6 billion, compared with the average projection of $14.7 billion.

Dish shares rose 2.8 percent to $80.53 in New York at 9:39 a.m. in New York. The value of the wireless airwaves, put at about $50 billion by Bloomberg Intelligence, tops Dish’s $37 billion market capitalization.

The company has been trying to limit programming costs and even temporarily blacked out out some of Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting channels, including CNN and Cartoon Network. Dish is also struggling to keep pay-TV subscribers from defecting to Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.’s streaming services.

Through Sling TV, Dish is providing a smaller selection of live TV channels over the Internet at a cheaper price to challenge more expensive cable TV bundles. Ergen has said his aim is to create a wireless video network that attempts to answer the demands of consumers who are watching TV on mobile devices.

U.S. use-it-or-lose rules on spectrum require Dish to put its airwaves to work in about two years. This will force Ergen to either sell airwaves, build his own network or partner or merge with a wireless carrier, Craig Moffett, an analyst with MoffettNathanson LLC, wrote in a note today.

“The good news for Dish Network is that there probably won’t be any resolution of the spectrum questions for at least a few years,” Moffett wrote.

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