Ergen: Dish Will Defend Broadcasters

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EchoStar Communications chairman Charlie Ergen came to the defense of broadcasters seeking retransmission-consent cash -- such as CBS, Nexstar Broadcasting Group and others -- telling analysts on a conference call that his company will gladly support television stations that are in disputes with cable operators.

On a conference call with analysts to discuss its fourth-quarter results Thursday, Ergen said EchoStar has been paying cash for retrans for years.

In many cable retrans disputes, broadcasters have followed through on threats to encourage viewers in areas where they don’t have cable deals to switch to satellite, in some cases paying a bounty to the direct-broadcast satellite provider for every cable customer they claim, as happened in disputes between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Suddenlink Communications and between Sinclair and Mediacom Communications.

Ergen said on the conference call that EchoStar has supported broadcasters for years and would continue that support.

“We will certainly help any broadcaster who is in a retransmission situation where they might lose a distributor,” Ergen said on the conference call. “We certainly will be there with our trucks and our advertising and our people to help them make sure that customers are not disenfranchised.”

However, he added, what is more likely is that cable companies will end up paying cash to broadcasters, which would level the playing field between cable and satellite.

“The cable industry is in a very tenuous situation,” Ergen said, adding that several broadcasters including Sinclair and Nexstar are starting to report big increases in retrans revenue.

“There are starting to be real numbers, and that’s not all going to come from satellite,” he added. “An interesting dynamic is going to happen as we move forward. It levels the playing field in an area where we have had a disadvantage. If a cable operator wants to not pay, then it’s an opportunity for the satellite industry.”

EchoStar reported strong fourth-quarter results, adding 350,000 net new subscribers in the period and ending the year with 13.1 million customers. Revenue at the second-largest DBS provider in the country rose 17% to $2.6 billion and operating income was up 23.8% to $311.7 million.

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