By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man –Follow on X.

TV Answer Man, I see that Dish is talking merger with DIRECTV again. Can you explain how DIRECTV would be different if Dish takes it over? What would we lose under Charlie Ergen? Sports channels? — Craig, Lubbock, Texas.

Craig, Dish CEO Hamid Akhavan yesterday said there are “significant synergies” between his company and rival DIRECTV which could result in a merger between the two satellite TV units. However, the Dish exec did not say talks are ongoing or that he’s even pursuing a merger at this time.

Still, due to increasing subscriber losses by both companies, it does seem logical that they would seek a merger, perhaps sooner than later despite possible regulatory obstacles in Washington, D.C. Industry analysts, including yours truly, have noted that federal regulators could reject a DIRECTV-Dish deal on grounds that it would leave many rural residents with only one viable TV provider. (Internet access, and cable TV service, is limited or nonexistent in some rural areas so streaming and cable are not reasonable alternatives.)

But for argument’s sake, let’s say Dish is part of a deal to buy DIRECTV, whether it’s a minority or majority stake.

First, it could take several months (or more) for the merger to be approved. But once it is, Dish would have control of what would be the nation’s largest multi-channel pay TV company despite the continuing sub losses. (Dish has roughly 8.2 million subs now with Sling TV included while DIRECTV has around 11 million, according to estimates. DIRECTV does not publicly release its sub numbers.)

Even if the agreement called for DIRECTV and Dish to be run separately, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen is clever enough to use the combined power of the TV services to force programmers to lessen their carriage fee demands. (This is why you would immediately see the programmers lining up to oppose the merger.) In the long run, this could enable Dish/DIRECTV to keep subscriber prices lower than if there is no deal. But it could also mean more channel blackouts than DIRECTV customers are used to because Dish is more inclined to play hardball in carriage negotiations.

As for set-tops and channel lineups, I don’t see Ergen or Akhavan implementing any major changes. Dish has been bearish on regional sports networks, carrying zero as of now. But the Dish execs know that the DIRECTV audience tends to be more sports-oriented than most so he might be more likely to carry RSNs than he has with Dish.

Bottom line: DIRECTV under Dish would be different, but not radically so. The merged company would have to tread carefully to keep revenues up, and subscriber declines down. With consumers having more video choices than ever before, it’s not a good time for a pay TV company to take too many chances.

Craig, hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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The TV Answer Man is veteran journalist Phillip Swann who has covered the TV technology scene for more than three decades. He will report on the latest news and answer your questions regarding new devices and services that are changing the way you watch television. See the bio for Phillip Swann here.