Ergen Reaches Out for Merger Support

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EchoStar Communications Corp. CEO Charlie Ergen continued to seek support for the company's proposed merger with DirecTV Inc. parent Hughes Electronics Corp. last week, highlighting the "Echostarmerger.com" Web site during a Monday night Charlie Chat
telecast.

While Ergen wouldn't go as far as to promise subscribers that their rates would go down after a merger, he said it was all but inevitable that rates would increase each year if the deal isn't approved.

The merger would help keep rates in check because some programming contracts give the direct-broadcast satellite providers a discount as they count more customers.

EchoStar plans to begin carrying local broadcast-TV stations in West Palm Beach, Fla., on June 19.

Last Monday, the company had not yet signed a retransmission agreement with the local CBS station. If it launches the market without CBS, it will offer a $1 discount to subscribers who take the local-channel package, Ergen said.

FOX DEAL LAPSING

He also warned customers that Dish Network's retransmission contract with the Fox broadcast network's owned-and-operated stations is set to expire on June 30. If no new contract is signed, Dish will offer its local-into-local subscribers a $1-per-month discount within the 19 Fox O&O markets until the stations are back up.

To help free bandwidth at its core 119 degrees west orbital location, EchoStar will move several channels to 110 degrees. To access those channels, subscribers need the Dish 500 system, with its larger antenna.

To be moved: Home Shopping Network, Shop at Home, Golf Channel, three pay-per-view feeds and a pay-per-view guide. Customers who commit to the America's Top 150 package and sign up for credit card autopay are eligible for a free upgrade to Dish 500. But some customers who watch the home shoppers in smaller packages would need to buy a hardware upgrade.

On June 21, EchoStar is scheduled to launch its eighth satellite, as an in-orbit backup. It could also increase local-to-local coverage, Ergen said.

Back in the U.S., EchoStar later this month plans to launch its much-anticipated two-tuner personal video recorder, the DishPVR 721. The company also expects to launch a high-definition television-capable PVR next year, Ergen said.

EchoStar is in talks to carry Discovery Communications Inc.'s new subscription-based high-definition channel, but doesn't expect to launch it before fall.

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