Ergen: EchoStar Dropped Ball on HDTV

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EchoStar Communications Corp. stock plunged nearly 13% ($4.72 per share) Tuesday after the company reported disappointing third-quarter subscriber growth and stumbles in its attempts to sell new products like HDTV.

EchoStar reported about 285,000 net new subscribers in the period, above the 270,000 additions in the previous quarter but down from 320,000 in the same period last year. Most analysts had expected basic growth of about 300,000 customers in the quarter.

EchoStar stock was priced at $32.08 per share (down $44.72 each) in 4 p.m. trading Tuesday. The stock had traded as low as $31.91 during the day.

Chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen blamed himself for the poor results, adding that EchoStar had the opportunity to capitalize on new-product sales amid slow growth in cable subscribers, but it failed to do so.

"The CEO needs to do a better job, and the CEO didn’t do a very good job this quarter," Ergen said on a conference call with analysts.

He added that EchoStar failed to introduce an HDTV product in September -- the start of the holiday shopping season. Although the No. 2 direct-broadcast satellite provider plans to offer an HDTV product in time for the Christmas rush, Ergen said EchoStar has lost a key opportunity.

"We will have some limited HDTV, but we clearly missed all of September and, for the most part, we missed the holiday season," Ergen said. "We’re leaving some business on the table."

Revenue was up 19% in the period to $1.45 billion.

Ergen left the door open to possible collaborations with News Corp. after that company completes its acquisition of DirecTV Inc. parent Hughes Electronics Corp., expected by the end of the year.

He added that possible joint ventures, including sharing spectrum or lobbying efforts, are more of a possibility with News Corp. than they had been with DirecTV’s old ownership.

"When and if News Corp. finalizes its merger, I hope we have a chance to talk with them," Ergen said. "I gave up a long time ago with DirecTV."

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