DISH Chairman Ergen: Unplugged

DISH Network (NASDAQ: DISH  ) has been making news on several fronts, not only as a disruptor of the status quo in the worlds of pay TV and mobile communications, but also, as a Bloomberg headline once called DISH, "The Meanest Company in America."

As the Bloomberg article points out, much of the company's cantankerous quality can be traced to its tenaciously combative founder, chairman, and former CEO, Charlie Ergen.

On being the "meanest" and the "worst"
Not surprisingly, Ergen doesn't agree with that characterization of his company, calling it a depthless charge during an interview he gave onstage at AllThingsD's "D: Dive Into Media" conference.

He also took exception to glassdoor.com's poll finding DISH "America's Worst Company to Work For." It may not be an easy place to work, he said, but making it at DISH is about taking personal responsibility.

"There are only two kinds of employees that I've run across in 30 years," he said. "There are ones that get results, and ones that make excuses. If you're in that second camp, you're not going to like DISH"

He continued: "I care about our employees more than anybody in my company. I care about my kids, too, but that doesn't mean I give them everything that they want."

On going wireless
DISH has been buying up wireless spectrum over the past several years -- but why? Isn't it a satellite-TV company?

Yes, "first and foremost, we are a video company," Ergen told the audience at D: Dive Into Media. But realizing that his company's network could also deliver voice and data along with video gives the company more diversity.

"We want to compete against both the cable guys and the wireless guys, and we want to do it inside the house and outside the house, and that's why we think we need wireless spectrum," Ergen said.

But he also said that taking as long as it did to get its wireless communications license from the Federal Communications Commission -- which it received only on a limited basis last December -- makes it unlikely DISH could build its own wireless network. "That probably is outside of the grasp of reality," he said. "It's better to probably work with someone who is in the business."

Which is the reason for DISH's counteroffer to Sprint Nextel's (NYSE: S  ) bid for control of Clearwire's (UNKNOWN: CLWR.DL  ) network infrastructure and spectrum. Ergen said DISH's bid for Clearwire was the real thing, but, he admitted, "[T]he deck is stacked against us."

If his company could not make a deal with Clearwire or any other network provider, "We would admit we failed and try a new approach," he said. "We would hang a 'For Sale' sign on the spectrum."

On the AutoHopper
What about DISH's infamous AutoHopper, a device to remove commercials from DISH DVRs? The thought of it drove CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) CEO Les Moonves to vent: "If they want to eliminate our commercials, we will not be in business with them -- it's pure and simple."

Ergen's take at the conference: "I don't want to kill ads. I think advertising is great, and I'm very aware that there's multiple revenue streams in television, subscription and advertising. But I also don't want to put my head in the sand, and I think the world is changing."

"If the broadcasters were to win [their various lawsuits aiming to get rid of the AutoHopper]on their claims, they'd outlaw the DVR," he said.

DISH: It's not a job; it's an adventure
"It takes a lot of guts to work at this company," Ergen said. "We're a little bit like an Indiana Jones movie, where we're always in trouble and we always get out of it. We're going from alligators to arrows to snakes."

Or going from just a pay-TV company to an everything-wireless company, if DISH and Charlie Ergen get their way.

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