Dish Moves Away From Spectrum Dependence

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When Dish Network (DISH), the satellite TV company, last June abandoned plans to build a vast mobile network through a Clearwire acquisition, its stock was trading at about $40. It opened Friday at $56.77.

Since June, Dish has released the hounds of innovation, culminating in a flurry of announcements at this week's Consumer Electronics Show that reporters are only starting to analyze:

  • Dish gave its Hopper DVR a series of add-ons dubbed the Joey Troop. (The Hopper's symbol is a kangaroo, and a joey is a baby kangaroo.) They let users connect devices and other TVs to the DVR via WiFi, and enable the recording of up to 8 shows at once. The "Super Joey" offering got an "editor's choice" award at the show, according to Dish

  • Dish made a deal with Sony (SNE) that lets PlayStation 3 and 4 owners control their Hoppers through the Super Joey app. 

  • Dish announced it is picking up a new Internet-delivered network from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) due for launch in February. The $9.95-a-month offering is a move away from pay-per-view, and away from dependence on cable or satellite for carriage.

Dish stock fell Thursday after the company dropped its plans to acquire LightSquared, a bankrupt holder of shared spectrum, right before a court hearing focused on Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen's purchase of LightSquared's debt. 

Dish still holds some mobile spectrum, which it plans to build out, and T-Mobile USA's (TMUS) recent purchase of spectrum from Verizon (VZ) has one analyst estimating the value of Dish's holdings in this area at $21.4 billion. Dish's total market cap is around $26 billion.

But the company's growth may no longer be tied to spectrum ownership. Instead Dish is making extensive use of unlicensed WiFi frequencies and going "over the top" of cable, using the wired Internet, in order to deliver more channels to subscribers.

The success of such "over the top" networks as Glenn Beck's TheBlaze, which Dish also distributes to what Beck says are more than 300,000 subscribers, is going to be a huge challenge to cable, which sells "channels" in bundles and acts as a gatekeeper to programmers.

Dish's strategy is aimed at giving viewers any channel they want, for any price they wish to pay, anywhere they want it, and to deliver it by going over, around and through cable gatekeeping in any way it can.

A hint of future innovation in this direction may be seen in a newly approved patent that could allow ready connections between its satellite system, mobile networks, and cars. The patent given to Stefan Bernard Raab and assigned to Dish, enables roadside assistance but could be a sign of things to come.

The Internet has remade dozens of industries over the last 20 years and, through Dish, may be about to remake cable as well.

At the time of publication the author had no investments in companies mentioned in this story.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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