DirecTV-Dish merger would probably get regulatory OK, analyst says

A potential merger between satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network is still just speculation at this point. But, one analyst said that if it did happen, there’s a good chance regulators would approve the deal.

In 2002, federal regulators shot down a potential merger between EchoStar, the company that operates Dish Network, and DirecTV on the grounds that it would create a satellite monopoly in rural areas of the country where cable wasn’t available. But, MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett argues that a lot has changed since then.

“Satellite TV was growing by leaps and bounds at the time. Now it is in free fall. That alone may be enough to settle the debate; sure, two would be better than one, but both are credible bankruptcy risks on their own. Heck, they’d be a credible bankruptcy risk even together. Simply preserving an option for rural America at all would be the argument. And it would be a reasonably persuasive one,” wrote Moffett in a research note.

He also said that the argument that today’s many internet-delivered TV services provide enough competition in rural areas doesn’t hold water.

“…If Cable isn’t a competitive alternative in rural America, well, then neither is broadband-delivered video. Whose broadband pipe, other than Cable’s, would be there to deliver all those OTT alternatives?” Moffett asked.

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But, Moffett said Dish’s and DirecTV’s combined 30 million satellite subscribers would represent approximately 32% of the linear pay TV industry and that kind of scale might give them too much influence over programmer distribution deals.

Moffett said if Dish Network and DirecTV did merge there would be room for synergies. He argued that the companies couldn’t merge satellite fleets because of differences in the providers’ conditional access systems, but that money could be saved by consolidating ground facilities, SG&A costs and programming costs. However, Moffett said the biggest source of synergy would come from churn reduction. The firm estimates half of all satellite churn is back and forth between Dish and DirecTV.

Despite all this, MoffettNathanson said that it would be difficult to finance a merger between the companies. DirecTV is projecting more than one million in subscriber losses for the third quarter, which the firm said will crater EBITDA in 2020 and make long-term debt on the business a non-starter. The firm also said that Dish is levered at 5x EBITDA, meaning equity returns for potential buyers would not be good.

“Ultimately, all this is a question of valuation,” wrote Moffett. “We’ve seen and heard analyses that apply valuations as high as five or six times EBITDA. Those kinds of valuations are wholly inappropriate for businesses declining by double digits.”