Japanese mobile operator Softbank wants to buy Sprint. So does all-American satellite broadcaster DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH). This is a bidding war, sure, but also a war of words. DISH says the Japanese option is a threat to national security; Softbank asked its banking partners not to support DISH's bid. So Softbank struck an accord with American regulatory bodies that bypassed the alleged security threats, and DISH tapped a handful of other banks to finance its own bid.
Oh, but that's not all. Sprint is in the midst of buying Clearwire outright -- in a bidding war with DISH, of all potential rivals. This bidding war is a moot point if DISH walks away hand-in-hand with Sprint, but that hasn't stopped some heated auction action. Sprint's original $2.97 bid per share was topped by a $3.30 offer from DISH, and then raised by Sprint again to $3.40 -- and now there's a $4.40 DISH alternative on the table. Clearwire investors clearly love this war, but it sounds as if DISH is waving a white flag over the Sprint combination.
Did I mention that the latest Clearwire bid comes just hours before the company's shareholders are supposed to vote on accepting the Sprint deal? Yeah, that vote will most likely be moved back a few weeks thanks to the fierce bidding.
Will Sprint marry Softbank or DISH? Will DISH get both Sprint and Clearwire -- or neither one? This tangled mess of backstabbing and close-family dating would make an excellent telenovela in my book.
But wait -- there's more! In case you were wondering why DISH is so interested in wireless assets, you'd get another clue by glancing at satellite rival DIRECTV (NYSE:DTV.DL). The larger satellite operator is interested in buying all or part of online video specialist Hulu, which is currently owned by a cabal of Hollywood studios that don't always get along. DIRECTV would presumably boost its digital services with the Hulu bid, paving the way toward abandoning the costly satellite strategy in favor of a more direct digital streaming option.
With a serious wireless network under its belt, DISH could do the same thing with a focus on complete and high-quality coverage, while DIRECTV would be the king of exclusive content in this space. Both of these as-yet theoretical services would become serious competitors to HBO and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), as the various players converge on the same ultimate goal from different starting points. Netflix is the leader of this aspirational pack right now, but will that pole position last? DISH, for one, is doing its best to find a passing lane.
We're watching the future of personal entertainment in the making, folks. And the behind-the-scenes story looks like a heck of a script, too.
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