* Customers can turn to online sources for AMC-Ergen
* Clearwire shares rise on Dish investment speculation
* Second-quarter revenue, net income miss Street
* Dish “cautiously optimistic” about Q3 subscriber growth
By Liana B. Baker
Aug 8 (Reuters) - Dish Network Corp Chairman Charlie Ergen says customers missing AMC Networks programs during a prolonged blackout of its service should turn to Apple’s iTunes or Netflix to get their “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” fix.
The billionaire’s pointed comments came as Dish, the nation’s second-largest satellite operator, reported weaker-than-expected second quarter revenue and earnings, and disclosed a potential furthering of its wireless ambitions with a new investment in a telecommunications company.
Dish said in a filing on Wednesday that it made a roughly $400 million strategic investment in debt securities of an unnamed “single issuer” that needed capital to meet its financial obligations beyond the next 12 months. Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche said there was speculation that Dish’s investment was in wireless service provider Clearwire Corp.
Clearwire said on July 26 is has enough funding to last at least 12 months.
Both Ergen and a Clearwire representative declined to comment when asked specifically about the investment.
Still, the speculation was enough to send Clearwire shares up 16 percent, of 24 cents, to $1.74 in afternoon trading Wednesday.
Dish has spent nearly $3 billion on wireless spectrum and assets but cannot move forward with building a wireless network until it gains approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. On an earnings call, the company gave few new details about its plans for the spectrum beyond saying that it expects a favorable resolution to come from the FCC in “the next few months.”
After a dispute over programming fees, Dish dropped AMC Networks, home of the “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” TV shows, on July 1. Dish Chief Executive Joe Clayton said on Wednesday that Dish would lose some subscribers in the third quarter because of the AMC removal but said the turnover was “manageable.”
Clayton said he was cautiously optimistic about Dish’s subscriber growth in the third quarter, adding that the company would do better than it did in last year’s third-quarter, “just like we did better in the second quarter of this year compared to 2011.”
Ergen said Dish would be interested in paying for AMC on its own, without the other channels that come along with it, including WE, IFC and Sundance.
“AMC as a standalone could make more sense but that’s not anything that’s been offered to us,” he said.
Ergen spoke at length about changing TV viewing habits and how some of AMC’s critically acclaimed series are “available to our consumers on an a la carte basis through iTunes or Amazon .” He joked that it would be cheaper for Dish to pay for its subscribers to watch “Mad Men” on iTunes then to pay what AMC was asking in a new contract and then pass on the cost to Dish subscribers who don’t watch the network.
“The world is changing and you’re not going to have everybody having every program out there, and you’re certainly not going to get programs that are readily available on other networks or readily available on the Internet,” he said.
Despite the lengthy standoff, Brean Murray analyst Todd Mitchell said he expects the companies to reach a resolution eventually.
“AMC needs Dish’s distribution and Dish will distribute anything it can get a decent price for,” he said.
AMC Networks declined to comment. AMC, along with its former parent company, Cablevision, has also sued Dish for $2.5 billion in damages, alleging improper termination of a 15-year contract with an AMC unit called VOOM HD.
Dish had previously said it lost 10,000 net subscribers in the three months ended June 30, a vast improvement from the 135,000 subscribers who dropped the service a year earlier.
While some analysts have said Dish is in the midst of a turnaround and is attracting customers from main rival DirecTV , it reported weaker-than-expected financial results.
Second-quarter revenue fell 0.6 percent to $3.57 billion. That compared with the $3.64 billion expected by analysts, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company’s total costs and expenses rose 9 percent to $3.1 billion, which Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett, in a research note, called a “recipe for disaster.”
“It’s getting harder and harder to plausibly argue that this is a turnaround, in our view,” he said.
Adjusted for a charge related to a satellite license, the company earned 59 cents per share. That missed Wall Street estimates by nine cents.
Net income was partly weighed down by higher-than-expected costs related to video retail chain Blockbuster, which Dish acquired last year, Brean Murray’s Mitchell said.
Subscriber acquisition advertising rose 75 percent year-on-year in the second quarter to $118 million
Dish generated slightly more revenue per subscriber in the second quarter at $78.11, an increase of 5 cents from a year earlier.
Shares in the company fell 9 cents or 0.3 percent to $30.58 on Wednesday.