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EchoStar: The Ergen shopping list

June 29, 2011

EchoStar co-founder Charlie Ergen is famously careful with his cash, actions which have helped the former poker player to build his net worth to some $7 billion and a position as the 51st richest American (according to Forbes). But suddenly he is on a spending spree.  In April this year (via sister company Dish Network) he bought near-bankrupt Blockbuster for $320 million giving Dish a valuable retail name and 1,700 stores scattered across North America.

Yesterday (June 28th) Dish agreed to pay out a rather larger fortune of $1.38 billion to buy TerreStar, again out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. TerreStar’s speciality is wireless communications using satellite. Charlie Ergen in February also bought DBSD, another distressed broadband-by-satellite operator (and perhaps better known as ICO North America). The appeal to Ergen in both TerreStar and DBSD is simply down to one fact: spectrum.  Ergan sees immense future value in spectrum and these two businesses give him access rights to spectrum to and from space, and terrestrially across the USA.

But now that analysts have smelt the colour of Charlie’s money, his name is linked with a dozen other businesses, not the least of which is pay-radio operator Sirius-XM.  Dish Network’s recently appointed CEO is Joe Clayton. Clayton was once chairman at Sirius, and evidently there isn’t much love lost between him and his replacement at Sirius, Mel Karmazan.

Clayton also happily told DealBook last Friday that he WAS interested in Sirius, as well as Hulu and other opportunities. “There are a lot of things that are up for grabs right now,” he said.

The scope of Charlie Ergen’s vision is huge, and with a large warchest of cash available to both EchoStar and Dish Network, in truth, anything could be possible. While it is always good advice to suggest that would-be buyers eat only ‘one meal at a time’ the fact remains that some assets will likely not come onto the sales forecourt again for some time.

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