TV Answer Man, I agree with you that I think DIRECTV and Dish will merge and probably sooner than later. But who do you think will run the company? If it’s Charlie Ergen, I’m afraid that we will have more channel blackouts because Dish has so many. What do you think? — Jess, New Haven, Connecticut. 

Jess, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen sent tongues wagging last week when he hinted a merger between satcasters DIRECTV and Dish was not only “inevitable,” but it could happen soon after Tuesday’s mid-term congressional elections.

“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 last week 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.”

I’ve received several reader e-mails since Ergen’s remarks that express concern over the possibility of the Dish chief running both companies as one. Ergen’s Dish has been embroiled in more carriage disputes than any other pay TV company over the last several years and industry analysts say he is the reason why. The former professional blackjack player turned satellite icon is a fierce competitor and tough negotiator. He’s not afraid to allow a channel to go dark if he judges the programmer’s terms to be unfair.

I don’t think you can say with certainty that Ergen would run a DIRECTV-Dish company the same way. The combined entities would have more than 20 million subscribers and therefore more leverage in carriage talks. But Ergen is Ergen so you would have to expect more blackouts than normal.

However, would the new company be run by Ergen or some joint arrangement between Dish and DIRECTV’s co-owners, AT&T and private equity firm, TPG? Or perhaps even by the current management team at DIRECTV?

I think it’s crystal clear that it would be Ergen. AT&T has made it clear that it’s no longer interested in being part of the entertainment business; the company spun off DIRECTV and Warner Media (merged with Discovery and now run by Discovery chief David Zaslav.) It would be a total reversal for AT&T to suddenly decide it wants to run a larger satellite company at a time when satellite subscribers are shedding like a big cat on a small couch.

In addition, TPG is in the DIRECTV business simply to make money. It has no pretenses of becoming a pay TV player. The Dish merger could allow the private equity firm to walk away with a profit and move on to its next conquest.

So, yes, if DIRECTV and Dish merge, Charlie Ergen will become chairman of the company, as he now is for Dish, and install his people at CEO and elsewhere to carry out his vision which would include the satellite business, the streaming business, and the wireless business.

Jess, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann