Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen, who has long said a merger with satcaster rival DIRECTV is inevitable, today may have put a timetable on such a deal.

“You’re hesitant to be a political football for somebody to complain about big companies or whatever in an election cycle. But that election cycle is over next week. And then you have a window, where I think all companies are looking at M&A,” Ergen told financial analysts today in a conference call following the release of the company’s third quarter report.

He added: ““If the timing (of a DIRECTV-Dish merger) was right, it would be in the near term, not the longer term.”

The reference to avoiding the mid-term Congressional elections, which are next week, is similar to what Ergen said in August when asked about a possible merger between Dish and DIRECTV.

“We think that’s inevitable, but I do think you’re close enough to the election today that I think regulatory is your biggest risk,” Ergen said then. “And I think you’d wait and see which way the wind is blowing and you’re going to know that in the next couple of months.”

The merger buzz has escalated in the past several years with both Dish and DIRECTV losing millions of subscribers due to cord-cutting and other factors. Ergen has said repeatedly that the merger is “inevitable” because the market can no longer support two satellite TV services. The combining of the two satcasters would enable the company left standing to more effectively compete against the onslaught of new streaming ventures as well as existing cable TV services.

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The New York Post reported last January that the two companies were discussing a merger and Ergen’s statements today might suggest the talks have continued off the radar.

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