Monday morning, we all knew that DISH would report first-quarter earnings. But who knew that the satellite broadcaster's earnings would amount to $1.22 per share -- 79% more than analyst expectations? Not me, for certain.
Great artists steal
DISH has lost subscribers over the last few quarters, but it reversed that trend with a modest gain of 58,000 net new accounts. That gain comes despite DISH's decision to raise prices in February, which increased the company's margins and contributed to the large bottom-line beat. What's more, the price increase started late in the quarter and will make a larger contribution in the second quarter.
DISH is ripping a page from the playbook of larger rival DirecTV
DirecTV sells premium subscriptions based on great sports packages and plenty of high-definition channels. One of the best weapons in DISH's armory today is a tight relationship with DVR veteran TiVo
That's right -- five years of legal haggling over TiVo's "time warp" patent has terminated in a $500 million settlement that includes some cross-licensing of patents. DISH plans to leverage that fully paid-up license as a competitive advantage. Poking fun at the half-decade process, CEO Charlie Ergen noted that the settlement was signed on Saturday, thus concluding just before U.S. troops concluded their even longer search for Osama Bin Laden. "We beat them by a day and we're proud of that," he said.
Who's in your crosshairs?
That TiVo-boosted DVR offering is mainly a weapon against cable and telecom rivals, though. DirecTV already has a license for the time warp patent, as do cable giants Comcast
All of them have DVR services, of course, but DISH could tailor its marketing to point out the stability and potentially richer features of a properly licensed service -- especially now that TiVo has a more robust leg to stand on when going after other infringers.
The fun didn't stop there. DISH also announced another $1 billion debt offering on Monday, to be used for general corporate purposes. With $3.4 billion in cash and short-term investments at hand, DISH was in no danger of running out of cash, even after accounting for its $260 million buyout of Blockbuster's assets. Those general purposes might include expensive projects like launching more satellites or rejuvenating the Blockbuster brand, or perhaps some bigger merger and acquisition plans.
Unfortunately, we really don't know which of those initiatives the company might pursue.
Where is DISH going in the long run? I don't know, and neither does Charlie Ergen. Here's what he told analysts about the Blockbuster deal: "As of right now, we think there might be synergies back with DISH Network's business. We're not sure yet. We're still going to spend some time looking at that, but it's an opportunity that we think that at the price that we got it for that it could make sense for us in the long term."
Translation: We just spent $260 million without a clear plan for what to do with it. Uh-oh.
In broader terms, Ergen famously compared his strategy to any Seinfeld episode: "You'll have to just wait and see where it all comes together," just like Seinfeld never made sense until the last two minutes of each show. "It's a little hard to explain it this early in the show," he elaborated. That statement gives me pause.
You're the CEO of a public company. Isn't it your job to explain your strategy to investors and stakeholders in your business, even if it's "a little hard?"
OK, so you own more than half of the company yourself, which makes you the largest stakeholder of all. That makes the next question equally obvious: Have you defined your strategy even to yourself, Charlie? If you're just winging it as you go along, how can other investors have any confidence in the direction you're taking DISH next?
The only way to know where DISH will go from here is to stay on top of the company like a hawk. We recently introduced a new feature that helps you do just that -- add DISH Network to My Watchlist and bask in constant updates on the company. For a fuller view of the broadcasting industry, you can take the next step and fill out your watchlist with every stock that matters:
Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of TiVo but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. AT&T is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors