Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What's Up with AT&T's Satellite Deal?

You are free to take your pick: AT&T has terminated its current contract with Dish Network simply to negotiate better terms; or AT&T has done so because there is a real chance it might partner with DirecTV. Either thesis has some merit.

AT&T represents about 15 percent of Dish Network’s gross subscriber adds, so losing the deal would likely lead to negative subscriber growth for Dish in 2009. From AT&T's perspective, switching providers would entail some costs, as well, so the most-logical scenario is simply that AT&T will use the new competition to extract better terms from Dish.

It wouldn't be the first time a major supplier has been played as a card against an existing supplier. At the margin, some would argue, DirecTV offers a richer menu of on-demand and HDTV programming.

But a value-price argument can be made for either satellite provider. There are the switching costs to consider, of course. But there could be more going on under the surface than is apparent.

One never should discount what Liberty Media Chairman John Malone (Liberty Media has a controlling interest in DirecTV) might be thinking, strategy-wise. At his best, he is a move or two ahead of everybody else. I don't know whether that is a factor this time around, but anytime he does decide one of his assets has a strategic opportunity, one pays attention. He does.

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