Phillip Swann, editor of TV Answer Man, and the former editor of TVPredictions.com, is making several predictions for what will happen in the TV technology industry in 2022. His second prediction: Will longtime satellite rivals DIRECTV and Dish merge?
Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has said frequently that a merger between his company and DIRECTV is “inevitable.” Ergen notes that both satellite TV services have lost a significant number of subscribers over the last several years and that the growth of streaming will undoubtedly trigger even more defections. By combining, the two services could reduce expenses, create more leverage in carriage negotiations, and focus on new technologies that could limit future subscriber losses.
So with the satellite industry in decline, what’s stopping this ‘inevitable’ and seemingly necessary merger?
Well, they actually did try to merge once two decades ago, but the FCC rejected the deal on the grounds that it would be anti-competitive. And even today with the advance of streaming, federal regulators might be leery of combining the two satcasters because it would limit choice in rural areas where access to high-speed Internet is limited.
But the federal government recently passed President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure initiative which includes $65 billion for broadband expansion, particularly in those rural markets. This should alleviate some concerns at the FCC and Department of Justice.
Another apparent obstacle has been friction between Ergen and the AT&T executives who once ran DIRECTV. Ergen, arguably the industry’s toughest negotiator, can be difficult to deal with, particularly in a tense merger negotiation. (Just ask Rupert Murdoch who saw his attempt to merge with Dish collapse at the last minute when Ergen butted heads with a top Murdoch executive.)
But AT&T this year sold 30 percent of DIRECTV to private equity firm, TPG, and the satellite TV service is now run by a separate group (albeit former AT&T executives). With TPG’s influence in play, and AT&T in retreat, the environment is more favorable for Dish and DIRECTV to find common ground.
Consequently, I predict that DIRECTV and Dish will merge in 2022. I suspect it will not happen until the second half of the year. Both Dish and DIRECTV have some preparation work to do before moving forward. (By example, will DIRECTV secure at least a slice of the next Sunday Ticket contract, which would improve its value in Dish talks.) Plus, the Senate just a few weeks ago finally approved DOJ’s antitrust chief, Jonathan Kanter. It’s a little early to determine whether Kanter (and his yet to be named team) will be receptive to mergers or not.
Kanter has been a critic of Big Tech, saying it’s become too powerful. This might prompt him to support a satellite merger which could create more competition for streaming services owned by Google and others. But it’s just speculation now. Until DIRECTV and Dish take the temperature of those reviewing a satellite merger, it’s premature to proceed.
Still, I think Dish and DIRECTV will ultimately engage in serious merger negotiations in 2022 (if they haven’t already done so in 2021) and seal the deal before year’s end. And if the merger is approved, which is likely, the combined companies would have (sub counts as of now) more than 20 million subscribers. (DIRECTV and its sister services, DIRECTV Stream and U-verse, have around 16 million while Dish now has 11 million, including Sling TV.)
Even with subscriber numbers declining thanks to streaming, this would allow the satellite TV industry to continue for years to come.
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— Phillip Swann