Another week, another potential telecom merger. This time, the interested parties are Dish Network and T-Mobile US, which the Wall Street Journal reports are in early talks to consolidate their satellite TV and wireless holdings. Were the two to join forces, the Journal says Dish CEO Charlie Ergen would become the new entity’s chairman, while the colorful, somewhat erratic John Legere would serve as chief executive. No purchase price or other financial terms have been reported so far, and sources tell the Journal that the discussions could still very well fall through.
Lately, even new multibillion dollar telecom merger proposals have started to feel like old news. It was only a few weeks ago that Charter Communications said it would buy Time Warner Cable for $55 billion. That followed the sudden collapse of Comcast’s own yearlong bid for Time Warner Cable in late April, as regulators signaled they were unlikely to let the deal go through. AT&T continues to pursue a $48 billion takeover of DirecTV that would make it the nation’s largest TV distributor. And in mid-May, Verizon announced plans to buy AOL for some $4.4 billion. It all kind of makes you wonder: What telecom company hasn’t tried to go the merger route yet? (For more on that, see this excellent graphic the Journal put together last month on the last two decades’ worth of pay-TV mergers.)
Considering that, it makes sense Legere, Ergen, and their respective companies would be interested in testing the waters for a merge. And unlike some of the other deals we’ve seen lately, in which one company basically tried to buy a direct competitor (see: Comcast-Time Warner), Dish and T-Mobile are in different industries and could complement each other nicely. Dish is the second-largest satellite TV operator in the U.S. and T-Mobile the fourth-biggest wireless carrier. Per the Journal report, Dish “has amassed billions of dollars of wireless licenses but hasn’t built the cellular network needed to put them to use.” T-Mobile, meanwhile, has such a network network and has been adding subscribers at a fast clip, but could greatly increase its capacity with Dish’s wireless licenses.
T-Mobile’s strong growth is, in large part, a testament to the frenetic efforts of Legere to rebrand the company as America’s biggest wireless underdog. T-Mobile has poured money into its “Uncarrier” marketing campaign. In December, T-Mobile announced that customers would be able to roll their unused monthly data into a “personal data stash” for up to a year; to make sure America got the message, it then ran a Super Bowl ad in which Kim Kardashian repped her own data stash. Much more so than Kardashian, though, Legere has been the champion of these efforts, and of competition in the wireless industry in general. Legere loves to goad his rivals, and has all but dared them to keep customers from switching to T-Mobile. Where other wireless carriers seem like bloated corporate giants, Legere has somehow managed to make T-Mobile’s story one of grit and pluck. Suffice it to say, a merger with Dish wouldn’t exactly square with that narrative. But that’s why the T-Mobile story ultimately isn’t fiction—it’s just business.