Ergen: DBS Could Hit 70M Subs


New York -- Direct-broadcast satellite could potentially grow to an industry of 60 million-70 million subscribers with the rollout of digital-video recorders, HDTV programming and broadband Internet access, EchoStar Communications Corp. CEO Charlie Ergen predicted Thursday.

"I think as we move forward, our industry has a tremendous opportunity to grow well beyond where people think we’re going to be," Ergen said during the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association’s Sky FORUM conference here, which also featured sessions with Cablevision Systems Corp. chairman Chuck Dolan and DirecTV Inc. chief Eddie Hartenstein.

Although the EchoStar-DirecTV merger attempt failed, Ergen said, the companies could still work together on projects such as fighting piracy. He suggested that DirecTV and EchoStar combined could add an additional 1 million subscribers next year with a coordinated crackdown on piracy.

EchoStar, which planned to roll out its "Super Dish" HDTV service over the summer, is now shooting for a rollout in mid-November, Ergen said. "The [66-centimeter] dishes are coming in now, but we don’t have enough to do an effective rollout," he added.

Dolan, who pitched his new Voom DBS service, wouldn’t say how much the company would spend on it.

When asked what he thought of negative investor reaction to the Voom spinoff, Dolan said, "I think the consternation is understandable." But he added that the spinoff will divide the risk, as Cablevision shareholders will get "two pieces of paper -- one with moderate risk and the other with greater risk, and he can choose between the two."

Hartenstein said sales of TiVo Inc. DVR-equipped DirecTV boxes has boosted average revenue in those homes by $15, while churn in TiVo homes has dropped by 0.5% monthly. He added that DirecTV could reconfigure its Spaceway satellites to offer more HDTV programming.