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EchoStar Fans Await Liftoff

EchoStar (DISH) fans are growing anxious.

The satellite broadcaster is due to post earnings Wednesday morning. Wall Street is looking for a 35-cent per-share profit on sales of $2.19 billion.

But it's not the fourth-quarter numbers that Wall Streeters are so interested in. They're looking for signs of life on the strategic front. As rivals ranging from AT&T (T) and Comcast (CMCSA) to Verizon (VZ) jockey for position on a shifting communications landscape, backers of EchoStar are looking for CEO Charlie Ergen to shake things up a bit.

Upping the stakes, EchoStar shares have been flat for the last five years. They closed Tuesday at $29.46.

A Goldman report this week suggested that fans are hoping Ergen will make comments indicating that management is weighing a sale or at least a joint broadband venture with competitor DirecTV (DTV).

Goldman analyst Lale Topcuoglu concedes that Ergen is unlikely to divulge anything of much significance. While Ergen's silence wouldn't necessarily signal a lack of interest, Goldman "believes it could reduce the market's patience" with the stock. Goldman makes a market in EchoStar, and has an outperform/neutral rating on the stock.

The Englewood, Colo., company has been bandied about as an acquisition target, especially following last week's megamerger between BellSouth (BLS) and AT&T.

Rupert Murdoch's DirecTV is in talks with EchoStar, and perhaps others, on how to launch a nationwide wireless broadband network. That news was first reported by TheStreet.com.

Both EchoStar and DirecTV want to capitalize off the so-called triple threat of television, telephone and Internet services that some rivals already dangle before consumers. Operators like the triple threat because it increases both revenue and customer loyalty or reduces subscriber churn. So far satellite companies have not been able to fully capitalize on this so-called bundling push because of their lack of two-way transmission capability. While both DirecTV and EchoStar offer high-speed data services through co-marketing agreements with telcos, they are discovering the myriad advantages of in-house triple-threat service.

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