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Want to Win From DISH and DIRECTV? Hurry Up and Wait

By Michael Lewis – Mar 28, 2014 at 11:09AM

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The best way to play this almost-merger is to let it happen. The long-term implications are far more valuable than the short-term bump the companies may receive.

A long-rumored megamerger may be getting close to reality. For years, analysts, investors, and management at both DIRECTV (DTV.DL) and DISH Network (DISH 3.55%) have at least acknowledged and in some cases supported the idea of joining forces to make one heck of a pay-TV behemoth. In the last year, the pressure to do a deal has only risen as traditional pay TV providers are faced with intense disruption from streaming businesses in addition to long-term pressure from cable companies that are closer than ever to being all-in-one telecom juggernauts. While investors should never bet on a deal until it's a sure thing, let's see what this would entail.

Long time coming?
John Malone, the father of cable, has been calling for it within his own industry for years now: consolidation. As the telecom giants drift further into providing all facets of communications and content owners charge higher and higher fees, the pay-TV providers must adapt or risk becoming irrelevant.

Malone may have been just talking about cable, but it goes for satellite TV just as much, if not more so. It's no secret either that DISH Network has been working endlessly (and spending billions) to launch its own broadband network and compete head-on with the Verizons of the world. DIRECTV CEO Mike White has mentioned his willingness to discuss a merger in the past, and just this week DISH's outspoken chairman, Charlie Ergen, reignited the interest in not-so-closed-door chats with White.

Some say the merger wouldn't happen because of regulators' scrutiny over such large deals. The FCC vetoed a DISH-DIRECTV marriage back in 2002, but that was before the industry was turned upside down. Now, with Comcast and Time Warner Cable attempting to walk down the aisle, regulators will have a hard time authorizing one and denying the other.

What it would do
Speculating on if and when the merger happens should be a very unappealing game to play, even though there is the potential to earn a pretty penny if the guess is right.

The company, if the two joined up, would be absolutely massive with more than 30 million subscribers and a portfolio of wireless spectrum (Ergen's obsession) worth nearly $30 billion. This would be a company with tremendous market share in the underpenetrated Latin American pay-TV environment. DIRECTV has banked millions of new subscribers in the region and fueled growth on both the top and bottom lines. Both companies continue to raise their average revenue per unit metrics in North America by offering premium products. DISH, if it finds a telecom willing to make friends, has the potential to utilize its massive spectrum holdings and instantly become one of the leading broadband businesses around.

The opportunity would be tremendous.

Will it happen? We have no idea. The stock prices for both companies have already risen precipitously this week, and the nanosecond that a tentative deal is announced, investors can expect an instant price adjustment. That's not the play most investors want to make. Wait for a deal to happen, and buy the long-term opportunity.

Michael Lewis has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends DirecTV. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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