EchoStar Communications Corp. has had a parade of presidents, four of them, in the past decade. Now one of them has come back in that same role.
Last week EchoStar named Carl Vogel president, finally filling the vacancy left seven months ago following the exit of Michael Neuman, who had a brief eight-month tenure. Vogel, who will oversee day-to-day operations for direct-broadcast satellite provider Dish Network, will continue to serve as vice chairman of EchoStar’s board.
“The market’s been waiting a dog’s age for some kind of management stability at the level below [EchoStar chairman and CEO] Charlie Ergen,” said Craig Moffett, a Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst.
'A KNOWN QUANTITY’
“It’s hard to say for sure, given the history of hirings and firings, but intuition says they may have finally found the guy they were looking for in Carl Vogel,” Moffett said. “He’s a known quantity. He knows the business. So you have to take this as a welcome development and a sign of greater stability to come.”
The appointment of Vogel, who served as EchoStar’s president from 1994 to 1997, comes at a time when the satellite provider faces thorny challenges on a variety of fronts.
First, the satellite industry just got a black eye with news that News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, reportedly impatient with DirecTV Inc.’s stalled efforts to launch a broadband product, is looking to sell his stake in the company to Liberty Media Corp.
In addition to that, EchoStar has several unique problems. It’s been ordered, by a jury and judge, to pay a total of nearly $90 million to TiVo Inc. in a patent-infringement case. EchoStar won a stay of a judge’s order that it stop selling digital video recorders that use the TiVo technology and deactivate boxes currently deployed to Dish subscribers.
On top of those woes, EchoStar is in the midst of a legal battle over court rulings that found it sold distant-network signals to hundreds of thousands of ineligible customers.
“It certainly is a time of turmoil for the DBS industry, looking increasingly likely that DTV [DirecTV] will change hands yet again; when EchoStar is sort of running a gauntlet of high-profile litigation; and cable’s triple play is starting to turn the tide of competitive advantage,” Moffett said. “It’s a tumultuous time.”
Vogel’s resume and skills will be valuable to EchoStar at this juncture, according to analysts. He returned to EchoStar in May of last year, after serving as CEO of Charter Communications Inc. Before joining Charter, Vogel held various senior executive positions with companies affiliated with Liberty Media.
“Who know the competition better than Carl Vogel?” said Jimmy Schaeffler, senior analyst for The Carmel Group.
MERGER IN FUTURE?
There’s already speculation that Liberty chairman John Malone would seek to merge DirecTV, if he succeeds in acquiring it, with EchoStar’s Dish. Vogel’s past ties and relationship with Liberty Media could be of great value in the future for EchoStar, according to Barbara Sullivan Roehrig, a Denver marketing consultant who worked for Vogel at Dish.
“He knows what he’s in for relative to everything that’s going on, to the acquisition or merger or whatever the relationship will be with DirecTV,” she said. “Carl is just as at home doing a deal with Malone as he is negotiating a programmer agreement. He dabbles well in all those circles.”
Meanwhile, Wall Street continues to speculate about what Ergen’s long-term plans are.
“The only thing you can say about Charlie Ergen is that anybody who has counted him out in the past has been made to look a fool,” Moffett said.