Charlie Ergen Back at the Helm of Dish

Prepares for Mobile-Based Challenge to Pay TV

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Dish CEO Charlie Ergen
Dish CEO Charlie Ergen Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Dish Network Corp. founder and Chairman Charlie Ergen will retake the reins at the satellite company after accumulating $50 billion in wireless airwaves in preparation for a mobile-based challenge to the pay-TV industry.

Mr. Ergen, 61, will take over from Chief Executive Officer Joseph Clayton at the end of March, Dish said Monday. Mr. Clayton, 65, will retire after leading the Englewood, Colo.-based company for almost four years.

Investors will focus on how Mr. Ergen plans to revive growth at Dish, which lost 79,000 pay-TV subscribers in 2014. The executive, who co-founded Dish more than 30 years ago, contacted Deutsche Telekom AG last year, expressing an interest in buying its T-Mobile US Inc. unit after a deal to merge T-Mobile with Sprint Corp. fell apart, people with knowledge of the matter said at the time.

Mr. Ergen is also under pressure to explain his broader strategy after his binge on spectrum and the debut of Sling TV, an online TV service for $20 a month.

"The future of this company is the spectrum and that is Charlie's call," said Paul Sweeney, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.

The company has been trying to limit programming costs and even temporarily blacked out some of Time Warner Inc.'s Turner Broadcasting channels, including CNN and Cartoon Network. Dish is also struggling to keep pay-TV subscribers from defecting to Netflix and Amazon's streaming services.

Through Sling TV, Dish is providing a smaller selection of live TV channels over the Internet at a cheaper price to challenge more expensive cable TV bundles. Mr. Ergen has said his aim is to create a wireless video network that attempts to answer the demands of consumers who are watching TV on mobile devices.

U.S. use-it-or-lose rules on spectrum require Dish to put its airwaves to work in about two years. This will force Mr. Ergen to either sell airwaves, build his own network or partner or merge with a wireless carrier, Craig Moffett, an analyst with MoffettNathanson LLC, wrote in a note today.

"The good news for Dish Network is that there probably won't be any resolution of the spectrum questions for at least a few years," Mr. Moffett wrote.

--Bloomberg News

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