The DISH-Sprint-Softbank-Clear drama is a corporate soap opera and I find myself rooting for the handsome entertainment exec over the mysterious foreign investor (and certainly over the litigious, spurned banker). DISH is ultimately the best owner for Sprint because Charlie Ergen (here I go again) truly understands the convergence of entertainment and communications.
Ergen is already pushing the limits with DISH’s Hopper service, which gives you multi-device, broadband-based access to your programming and your DVR content anywhere. He bought Blockbuster, betting that what was once the biggest rental brand can be a powerhouse in premium OTT video. He’s been pushing the FCC to let DISH expand the use of the satellite spectrum it owns; failing that, he has the strength to wade into the bidding war for Sprint (and it’s precious spectrum). DISH also has a Roku-based play up and running – its DISHWorld service – which shows it understands the ongoing disassociation of “customer” and “network,” i.e. you don’t have to own the network to engage with and win the customer. Just because Netflix has stolen the spotlight with its OTT offerings does not mean a network-based provider can’t do the same, and probably better.
What could be better for Sprint than to be wielded by a visionary leader like Ergen? Sprint has been flat to negative for what seems like ages. The company has fought price wars, badly. It leads as a wholesaler to MVNOs, but to what ultimate benefit? Dan Hesse, who in fairness has tried to be bold and aggressive, was the worst choice as a front man for a fading tech brand since Microsoft hired (and quickly dismissed) Jerry Seinfeld.
But let’s not forget, Sprint has assets – spectrum and a national CDMA network with plenty of devices built for it. It has scale. It has a strong back office that its former CIO (What’s up RL? Hope the family is well…) transformed after the Nextel merger. So, it would be great to see this fading third place runner get a nitro boost from a guy like Ergen. It would put the U.S.’s Pay TV and mobile aristocracies on their heels and force the market forward.
Would Softbank do the same? I don’t know. But it seems like a Telco buying a Telco pretty much means more of the same. DISH is a unique suitor; it’s a scrappy company and a demonstrated innovator. It knows how to fight against the big dogs. And it has Ergen’s vision, and his billions, to back it up. Yep, I’m on the bandwagon and I really want to see Charlie win this one. It would be darn interesting to watch, either because DISH will make its mobile and Pay TV competitors look like they are standing still, or because it would be the most spectacular flop since AOL bought Time Warner.