Ergen: No EchoStar-DirecTV Merger

Las Vegas -- EchoStar Communications chairman Charlie Ergen said Monday that there are opportunities for his direct-broadcast satellite service to partner with John Malone’s DirecTV, but he dismissed the notion of merging the two platforms.

“I’m glad [Liberty Media and News Corp.] have to go to Washington [for approval of their pending deal] and we can focus and run our business,” he added.

At EchoStar’s press conference at the International Consumer Electronics Show here, Ergen said that cable veteran Malone embracing DBS -- via Liberty Media’s pending acquisition of News Corp.'s stake in DirecTV -- was an important endorsement of the industry’s future.

“I think it says a lot about where we are in the satellite business,” he added. “There is probably nobody who knows more about the cable industry than John Malone, and for him to say, ‘I’m willing to give up a really good asset in News Corp. stock to go out and get back in this business,’ says a lot about the future of this business.”

At one point, citing the competitive landscape, Ergen said it could make sense for EchoStar’s Dish Network and DirecTV to partner on some initiatives, such as sharing satellites or backhauling to bring local networks in.

“I’ve always felt that there are things satellite providers can do together and should do together,” he added. “Certainly, you can share satellites,”

The two DBS providers teaming up on a national HD platform might be trickier, since DirecTV uses different HDTV standards than Dish, Ergen said.

But as for a potential EchoStar-DirecTV merger, Ergen said, “I think there’s a merger on the table, feasibly. It’s not us, and I think that one’s going to take all of 2007 to get done.” He didn’t elaborate further on that topic during the question-and-answer session.

Ergen said there was no update on Dish Network’s contract dispute with Court TV, which resulted in Turner’s justice network being dropped by the satellite service on New Year’s Eve.

He lamented that Dish and Turner have had a good relationship in the past, but in the case of Court TV, he claimed that the programmer wasn’t taking the DBS service’s subscribers seriously.

If no new deal is struck between Dish and Court TV by the end of the month, Ergen suggested that the network will be permanently replaced by another service Feb. 1. He claimed that Dish has gotten only a few calls complaining about the loss of Court TV, and many more calls in support of the satellite service not paying more for it.

“We have a number of good offers from people who’d like to take over that space,” he said. “We’re disappointed. Turner’s always been a really good partner of ours, and we’re disappointed that they didn’t seem too anxious to keep our customers, quite frankly.”