Dish and DirecTV Have a Window to Finally Merge After Next Week’s Midterm Elections, Ergen Says

Charlie Ergen at Denver event
(Image credit: Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Image)

The 20-year merger dalliance between satellite-TV companies DirecTV and Dish Network has a window to finally consummate following completion of the 2022 midterm election cycle next week, Dish chairman Charlie Ergen told equity analysts and business journalists Wednesday during his company’s Q3 earnings call. 

“You’re hesitant to be a political football for somebody to complain about big companies or whatever in an election cycle. But that election cycle is over next week. And then you have a window, where I think all companies are looking at M&A,” Ergen said. 

“If the timing was right, it would be in the near term, not the longer term,” he added.

Also read: Does a Dish-DirecTV Merger Make Sense? 

Dish and DirecTV were famously sent home from the altar in 2001 (opens in new tab) by federal regulators, with the two pay TV companies growing fast at the time and raising palpable antitrust concerns. 

Two decades later, Ergen — far more focused these days on Dish's fledgling wireless business — still refers to the union as being “inevitable” at almost every Dish quarterly earnings report. 

And why not.

Dish performed better in terms of pay TV user metrics in the third quarter, with Dish satellite only losing 181,000 customers, and virtual MVPD Sling TV adding 227,000 subscribers — results that Dish attributed to hungry football fans looking for affordable platforms to watch their games. Those 560,000 Comcast video refugees had to go somewhere, after all, and Sling TV has largely held the line with its $35 pricing tier for its sports-laden Orange tier. 

But even with its best satellite-TV customer performance in five quarters, Dish’s year-over-year satellite-TV sub decline now stands at a whopping 14.3%, with the satellite service's customer base dwindling to just 7.61 million souls as of Sept. 30. 

DirecTV was spun off from AT&T and merged with private equity last year, and it hasn't reported metrics since that time. But Leichtman Research Group estimates that recent quarterly customer losses have come in at around 400,000, and the rival satellite-TV platform only had around 13.9 million customers at the end of Q2. 

Analysts believe satellite TV still has utility in hard-to-reach rural areas, but they generally give the business only another five years or so to live. 

“In terms of a legal objection to a merger, that’s been diminished by time and obviously [by] the degradation of the linear TV business and competition from dozens of companies in the OTT business and the proliferation of broadband today,” Ergen said.

Notably, in his top 22 predictions for the technology, media and telecom industries in 2022, published back in early January, LightShed Partners analyst Richard Greenfield included a long-anticipated Dish-DirecTV merger finally occurring. 

 “We believe the regulatory risks today are not high given the state of the pay TV market," Greenfield wrote. "Frankly, if Ergen can’t get it announced this year, it might never happen.” ■

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!