Tag Archives: DISH

T-Mobile leads 600 MHz auction, DISH slips easily in behind

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T-Mobile is the big winner, or at least the big spender, in the Federal Communication Commission’s $20 billion incentive auction, walking away with more than half the 600 MHz band licenses up for grabs – 1,525 licenses, 55% of the total. Second place went to DISH, which paid $6.2 billion for 486 licenses, 18% of the total.

Who came in third depends on how you’re figuring it. Comcast bid the third most money – $1.7 billion – but ended up with only 73 licenses, a mere 3%. U.S. Cellular – the distant number five mobile carrier in the U.S. – was number three in the license race, paying $329 million for 188 licenses (7% of the total, but not prime real estate).

AT&T plunked down nearly a gigabuck – $910 million – for 23 licenses, a 1% share. Verizon, on the other hand, was shut out, winning zero licenses but, on the other hand, paying zero dollars.

Sprint didn’t participate, or at least not under its own flag. There will certainly be further wheeling and dealing. Many of the winning bidders appear to be have transaction motives rather than action plans.

DISH is top of that list. Chairman Charlie Ergen made the leap from millionaire to billionaire after placing a low cost, high return bet on direct broadband satellite slots back in the 80s, and has been playing the spectrum sweepstakes ever since. He’ll light up frequencies himself when there’s an open field – as there was with DBS once it got going in 90s – but otherwise manages his licenses as an investment portfolio.

Don’t expect anything revolutionary from anyone in the near term. It’ll take a few years to move TV stations off of the frequencies they’re giving up in exchange for $10 billion. And which they, or at least the original license holders, paid exactly zilch to acquire.

Satellite TV’s special circumstances are history

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For more than 20 years, satellite television companies have gotten a pass on many of the federal regulations that apply to their cable competitors. There was a lot of righteous rhetoric in those days about why Direct Broadcast Satellite was unique and should be allowed to live by different rules. But the underlying thinking was that satellite companies were small, cable companies were big and it was in everyone’s interest to foster a competitive alternative.

Those assumptions no longer hold. The two surviving DBS companies, DirecTv and DISH, have more subscribers than any cable company save Comcast. Only DISH remains independent, now that AT&T has absorbed DirecTv. Now, the Federal Communications Commission is planning to treat DBS and cable identically as it writes new rules opening up the set top box market

In the First [1998] Plug and Play Report and Order, the Commission exempted DBS providers from our foundational separation of security requirement because “customer ownership of satellite earth stations receivers and signal decoding equipment has been the norm in the DBS field.” This meant that DBS was also exempt from most of the rules that the Commission adopted in the Second [2003] Plug and Play Order. Unfortunately, in the intervening years the market did not evolve as we expected; in fact, from a navigation device perspective, it appears that the market for devices that can access DBS multichannel video programming has devolved to one that relies almost exclusively on equipment leased from the DBS provider. Accordingly…we tentatively conclude that any regulations we adopt should apply to DBS.

The plug and play orders were the FCC’s first attempt at breaking down the walled content gardens that network operators have built over the years. As acknowledged in the current FCC proceeding, those efforts didn’t work so well. This third try might not either. But treating all network owners the same is necessary if there’s to be any hope of success.

Back in the day, I wrote a lot of that righteous rhetoric. I’m proud to say that much of it remains as pungent today as when it was penned. I’m not an innocent bystander.

DISH hops in late to California’s Charter party

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DISH, the only independent direct broadcast satellite company in the U.S., has been trying to scuttle Charter Communications’ purchase of Time Warner’s and Bright House’s cable systems. Up until today, it’s focused its efforts on the Federal Communications Commission’s review of the deal. Now, though, in kind of a daddy’s not sure, go ask mommy move, it’s asking the California Public Utilities Commission for permission to get into the proceeding here.

In its filing, DISH says it fears Charter will use its control of the high speed broadband market to kill off competition…

This transaction would permit and motivate the combined company (“New Charter”) to hurt or destroy online video rivals, including the Sling TV over-the- top video service [owned by DISH], through its control over the broadband pipe…

This transaction will create a duopoly in the market for high-speed broadband service (defined as 25 Mbps and above), as it will result in two broadband providers – New Charter and Comcast – controlling about 90 percent of the nation’s high-speed broadband homes between them.

I don’t doubt that DISH worries about the dangers broadband monopolies pose to its online businesses, but stopping a competing pay TV distributor from improving its market position has to figure into its opposition too. If it didn’t, DISH would probably get more mileage out of pushing for stricter network neutrality conditions at the FCC, rather than try to kill it completely at the CPUC, as it seems to be doing.

It’s up the CPUC administrative law judge managing the review to decide whether DISH gets to be a full participant in the proceeding. With the review well along – last week was the deadline for filing testimony, for example – DISH has a tougher case to make than if it had jumped in last summer when this all began.

I’m assisting the City of Gonzales with its effort to upgrade broadband service via the CPUC’s review of the Charter-Time Warner-Bright House deal. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

DISH is first to complete the 4K product-content-distribution loop

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Any 4K you have.

Like HDTV before it, 4K ultra high definition television programming will enter the U.S. consumer mainstream via satellite. At its CES press conference yesterday, DISH Network announced that it will soon offer the 4K Joey. That’s what it calls its new set top box that streams satellite-delivered UHD channels to any 4K-capable television. Content availability, though, is less clear. According to the company…

DISH will deliver 4K content from several providers. Specific announcements will be made closer to the consumer launch of 4K Joey, which is slated for the second quarter.

Vivek Khemka, DISH’s SVP of product management, claimed that the new box is the first to be compatible with any 4K TV that uses the HDMI/HDCP standards.

The 4K Joey will be built on top of a Broadcom dual-core chipset and Broadcom 7448 dual-core ARM processor that Khemka says will support 4K at 60 frames per second.

Assuming the content is there – programming produced in 4K or better, not just HD bumped up as best as possible – DISH is providing the fuel that can make CEA’s prediction of a 4K firestorm feasible. Expect DirecTv to follow, at least in 4K-to-the-press-release fashion. And DISH’s other big announcement yesterday – streaming traditional sports, news and other live and linear channels over the Internet – means it’s positioned to deliver that 4K content that way too.

If broadband networks can handle the load. With continuous streams in the 5 to 10 Mbps-plus range – maybe several times plus if the programming is live – it won’t take too many 4K-capable homes on a given DOCSIS or VDSL node to slam traffic to a crawl. Copper might handle those speeds for a few, but with U.S. 4K penetration forecast to clear the 20% breakout hurdle before the end of the decade, the only plausible alternative now to satellite is fiber.

Sling TV offers traditional channels via broadband for $20 a month

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Best of all, no cable company.
Roger Lynch, CEO Sling TV

Targeting the millennial generation, Sling TV – a sister company of DISH Network – announced it will offer a line up of 25 to 30 traditional cable channels via broadband for $20 per month, with no commitment or contract, beginning later this month.

“All you need is a credit card and a broadband connection”, said DISH CEO Joe Clayton. The channels can be streamed on pretty much any device you have: mobile phone, tablet, PC, smart TV and, crucially, streaming devices made by other online television providers like Netflix or Hulu. Or DISH.

For now, the $20 over-the-top package includes ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family and CNN, with more announcements expected.

Clayton hinted at flexible offerings as well, promising packages that will “allow customers to tailor their experience”. Not quite ala carte, but getting closer. Sling CEO Roger Lynch was a little less forward leaning on his promises, talking about targeted add-ons to the core $20 package rather than a true you pick ’em service. Upgrades for news and kids programming will be available at launch; an extended sports package is in the works. Lynch said it’ll include additional ESPN channels, but the big – and unanswered – question is whether it’ll also include regional sports networks.

Live programming – particularly sports – is the big hole in the over-the-top content market. As younger viewers look to customisable, on-demand services, Sling’s strategy is to integrate a thin package of the most sought after sports, news and other relentlessly linear content into the viewing habits of the Netflix and Hulu generation.

“New adoption of pay TV is declining, particularly among millennials”, Lynch said. Sling’s solution is to deliver it to them where they already are, rather than fighting the losing battle of trying to force them back into into legacy cable or DBS subscriptions.

DISH hops out fighting

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Joe Clayton takes a combative stance.

“If skipping commercials is illegal, I guess we're all just a nation of outlaws,” said Joe Clayton, DISH CEO. He was speaking at a CES press conference today, defending the AutoHop feature on DISH's Hopper set top boxes and calling for change. Change in the pay TV business model, change in the attitudes of networks and change in industry attitudes towards consumers.

Clayton was positioning himself as a consumer advocate, saying the industry was moving toward “a tipping point” on programming costs. His answer is to push back hard, which “might involve channel take downs from time to time”, something he acknowledges can be “unsettling to consumers” but also “necessary to slow rapidly spiraling content costs.”

DISH is pushing ahead with enabling subscribers to shift viewing in time and space, which won't make networks and content owners universally happy. The DISH Anywhere project is built on top of Sling technology, which will now be built into the Hopper STBs and support viewing on Android and iOS mobile devices as well as laptop and desktop computers.

Support for iPads was showcased. The DISH Transfer app allows subscribers to copy programming directly to an iPad for later viewing offline, via a Sling-enabled STB. A “second screen” app – DISH Explorer – turns an iPad into a combination remote control and on-screen guide, and connects it to social media.

It's a combative stance, but completely in keeping with DISH's history as a independent and sometimes idiosyncratic pay TV platform. The content owners and distributors who sell to and through DISH don't like it, but even they won't dare tell 14 million customers to take a hop.

New day at DISH

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The Direct Broadcast Satellite pioneer has a new management team, new logo and new products. The core of the company is still satellite television, but there’s a more coherent and seamless integration of the company’s other offerings, such as satellite radio, DVRs, Blockbuster movies and more.

Joe Clayton has firmly taken over the helm from founder Charlie Ergen. He’s brought over some key players from the team that launched what is now known as DirecTv. Back in 1994, Joe led RCA when it joined with United States Satellite Broadcasting and Hughes’ DirecTv unit to launch DSS – the Digital Satellite System.
Ergen launched DISH a year and a half later. It’s now the world’s largest independent satellite television company, but still shows its maverick roots. Less so, though, now that Clayton has banished the traditional casual shirts with DISH logos and put his team into suits and ties, old school RCA style.
Clayton only slipped once today, referring to DISH as RCA. But he was the same uber-salesman, walking into the press conference carrying a live, baby kangaroo (their new flagship products are called Hopper and Joey, represented by kangaroo mascots).
The Hopper satellite receiver is a home video hub, and the Joey is a thin client that connects to it. Several Joeys can connect to a Hopper, allowing subscribers to watch 4 different shows in four different rooms, while recording a half dozen shows simultaneously on the integrated DVR.
Hopper is based on a 750 MHz Broadcom 7420 chip and comes with a 2 TB hard drive. It supports MOCA, ZigBee, Bluetooth and RF4CE connectivity, and interfaces with DISH’s Sling service, which allows viewing on a variety of devices. It also supports photo sharing, satellite radio, Pandora and personal music collections. And, of course, Blockbuster Internet video.
Clayton wrapped it up by previewing an upcoming satellite broadband service, offered in conjunction with ViaSat and using new satellite capacity due to be launched this summer. The satellite data service is specced at up to 12 Mbps will be bundled with subscription TV packages. Starting price point is $79.99.