Flash forward to 2018, and nothing has come together. Investors are now worried over the lack of news regarding the company owing to Ergen's evasiveness. AT&T Inc.
Over the last few years, Ergen has spent nearly $20 billion buying up unused spectrum - the radio frequencies that telecommunications companies use to build wireless networks - accumulating more than $15 billion in debt on Dish's balance sheet, or more than seven times its cash position. Ergen, who stepped down as CEO in December to "devote more attention to the company's emerging wireless business," remains chairman and owns about half of the company's shares, wants to use this spectrum build a 5G wireless network that can compete with AT&T, Verizon, and a possible Sprint-T-Mobile combination.
That said, Sling TV is an important but overlooked asset within Dish. It was a maverick in TV streaming, though competition has become intense as there are lower barriers to entry. It's also extremely easy for consumers to cancel such services versus the headache of dropping cable. AT&T copied Dish's Sling TV by recently raising the cost of its cheapest DirecTV Now package by $5 a month, as both companies vie for the miniscule margins offered by internet streaming services. I could still see a buyer being drawn to Sling, and I wouldn't count out a deal between Dish and Verizon Communications Inc., which could really use its spectrum.
"A multi-billionaire is risking everything to recapture the entrepreneurial glories of his early days in satellite TV," said analyst Craig Moffett, a longtime industry analyst covering telecom stocks. "To succeed, our protagonist will have to navigate a murderers' row of cord-cutting, groaning debt obligations, and an FCC buildout requirement that could render some of his most precious assets worthless."