Charlie Ergen Steps Down as Dish CEO to Focus on Wireless Business -- Update

By Drew FitzGerald and Imani Moise Features Dow Jones Newswires

Dish Network Corp. said Tuesday that Charlie Ergen has stepped down from his role as chief executive to focus on the company's fledgling wireless business.

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The company promoted its operating chief, Erik Carlson, to the CEO post and named other executives to manage divisions holding its traditional satellite-television business and Sling TV, its online-only pay-TV package.

The reorganization comes as Dish's satellite business bleeds customers, pressuring its earnings. Investors have meanwhile waited for years for the company to find a profitable use for its trove of wireless-spectrum licenses. The Englewood, Colo., company has spent more than $21 billion over the past decade to assemble airwaves it could use for its own wireless network or to sell to another carrier.

Mr. Ergen, who will remain chairman of the company, previously sought deals with major telecommunications businesses to pair their networks with its spectrum but hasn't found success. Earlier this year, he said it could be a good time to strike a deal, in light of what he called a "more friendly" administration when it came to mergers and acquisitions.

That outlook was complicated by months of negotiations between wireless companies Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc., talks that came to an end last month after both sides came to an impasse over ownership terms. The telecom industry got another shock a few weeks later, when the U.S. Justice Department sued to block AT&T Inc.'s $85 billion purchase of Time Warner Inc., arguing the combined company would have too much power over video distribution and innovation.

The department's lawsuit, which AT&T and Time Warner have vowed to fight, tweaked some assumptions about which potential combinations might raise government officials' concerns. Some analysts said the department's arguments, which lump satellite service in with other video-distribution methods, could make it easier for AT&T to buy Dish's satellite-TV unit.

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On the wireless side, Dish could still dig in for the long haul. Executives have been laying the groundwork for an "internet of things" network that could serve internet-capable cars, home devices and other gadgets, but say it would take years to build. The company will need to run a wireless business covering a significant amount of the U.S. by 2020 to meet federal obligations, or it could lose the spectrum licenses.

This is the second time Mr. Ergen has stepped down as CEO at the company he co-founded in 1980. He left the CEO post in 2011 then reclaimed the position in 2015.

During his most recent stint as CEO, Mr. Ergen launched Sling TV, the first online live TV service aimed at cord cutters created by a traditional pay-TV provider.

AT&T said Tuesday its DirecTV Now service has more than 1 million subscribers after a little more than a year. Sling TV doesn't disclose how many paying customers it has, though several analysts estimate the service has well over 1 million.

Dish Network shares rose 1.1% to $52.18 during early trading. The stock is down nearly 10% so far this year.

Write to Drew FitzGerald at andrew.fitzgerald@wsj.com and Imani Moise at imani.moise@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 05, 2017 12:25 ET (17:25 GMT)