EchoStar’s Ergen Slings Wares at CES

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Charlie Ergen, chief of sister companies Dish Network and EchoStar, touted his new “SlingLoaded” products and a new $9.99 package of more than 150 channels — for new subscribers — Thursday at the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show.

EchoStar, Ergen’s set-top and technology provider, unveiled two new products that incorporate SlingBox’s place-shifting technology, at a CES press conference.

The company’s new Sling-enabled HD digital video recorder, the 922, permits users to “sling” content from their TV sets to devices such as computers and smart phones. It will also roll out SlingGuide, which enables users to browse and control their DVRs from anywhere using a PC, Macintosh or iPhone.

Using Sling-enabled products like the 922, Ergen told reporters, “You can watch that same TV on your cell phone. You can watch that same TV on your personal player, and you can watch TV on a wireless basis. It’s a pretty incredible technology for somebody who wants to watch TV in someplace other than their living room. And most people do. It’s something that I want personally, because I travel a lot.”

Ergen was clad in his trademark sweater and loafers, and his annual CES appearance, one of his few public jaunts to answer press queries, is always packed with reporters.

At the press conference, Ergen, seemingly addressing his remarks to content providers, said that EchoStar’s Sling-enabled products will protect the copyright of place-shifted programming by marrying a customer’s account and their payment.

“If you don’t do it the way we’re doing it … nobody is going to get paid on it,” Ergen said.

EchoStar will also look to sell its Sling-enabled products, like its new HD DVR, to Dish’s rivals, namely cable operators and DirecTV, according to Ergen.

Also on Thursday, Ergen’s satellite service, Dish Network, announced plans to freeze prices on some of its lower-cost packages — such as Dish Family and Dish Mexico — and to offer a promotional $9.99 package to new customers starting Feb. 1, on the eve of the Feb. 17 digital transition.

“It’s an incredible, incredible deal for new customer,” Dish chief marketing officer Jessica Insalaco said.

That offer, good for six months, will include about 150 channels, with more than 100 of them in standard-definition and more than 50 in HDTV, according to Insalaco.

Asked about the offer, Ergen joked, “I hate giving away TV, but that’s all our marketing could come up with, I guess,” sparking laughter at the jammed press conference.

“From an economy perspective why are we doing it? One, it’s the digital transition … If you want our top 100 channels it’s $9.99,” Ergen said. “So it’s kind of perfect storm as to why you would do it. And secondarily, from an economic point of view, the reality of the marketplace is people are looking to save money.”

Ergen was also asked about the looming all-digital transition next month.

“The digital transition is kind of a great unknown,” he said. “Is is going to be Y2K, where we’re going to talk about it for two years, and when it happens, it was a big yawn, or are people’s TVs going to go dark Feb. 17, or around that time, and suddenly millions of people are without TV and don’t know what to do. We don’t actually know where it’s going to be. My guess would be somewhere in the middle.”

Ergen added that he doesn’t expect Feb. 17 to translate into a financial boon for Dish Network.

“We don’t see any money in it for us,” he said. “We see it as a kind of public obligation that we’re in the video business and certainly from a reputation point of view want to be involved in the digital transition.”

Ergen split his fiefdom into two companies, Dish Network and EchoStar, about a year ago. EchoStar acquired Sling Media for $380 million in September 2007.

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