Q&A with Dish’s new CEO Joseph Clayton

Dish Network’s new chief executive, Joseph Clayton, comes to the satellite television provider amid great change. The Englewood, Colo.-based company has been on an acquisition spree, buying Blockbuster out of bankruptcy and a bunch of satellite spectrum through its purchase of Hughes Communications. The company is trying to position  itself as a key distributor of video over the Internet to any device. And it wants to provide the broadband connections to deliver those shows too. Think Netflix combined with Time Warner Cable.

 But lest you think the appointment of Clayton means the company’s leader, Charlie Ergen, is slowing down, think again. He’s just getting started, Clayton said.

Here’s an edited transcript of a phone interview this morning.

Q: You were appointed as new CEO of Dish to “deliver video entertainment into the future.” What will this future look like?

A: It’s a story that’s still evolving. For example, we only bought Blockbuster a few weeks ago and Hughes, which will add satellite and broadband capability a month ago. So we are rationalizing within our asset base with Echostar and Dish. And I’d be willing to bet that Charlie Ergen is not done yet. That was part of the rationale behind the announcement, for me to do the day to day and he’s got Mike Dugan at Echostar as CEO. That way he can concentrate on the strategic direction of what I’ll call the Ergen empire.

 Q: So how involved with Charlie be?

A: Charlie Ergen was not going to go away. It’s not his nature. He’s the founder, chairman of the board, and the company’s largest shareholder. But he needs help. God can say grace over all the assets we currently have. He clearly needs help.

Q: What else is in his strategic plan?

A: I see an opportunity with Echostar and dish and new assets and potentially of a few more.

 Q: What is the role of devices in this plan? Can we see Dish delivering on-demand streaming Blockbuster videos to the Xbox and mobile devices?

A: Consumer electronics will shape the future. 

 Q: How will people describe Dish in three years?

A: I think it would be leader in video, data, communications. With Hughes, we will have broadband capability so the future has to be about video and data.

 Q: Do you think a future communications company has to have all these arms to their business – content, online distribution, broadband?

A: I believe so. Look at cable companies like Comcast. It’s not just in video anymore or in telecom, and how far we go and where we decide to specialize, that is what Charlie is putting together right now. That’s his grand vision.

Q: Tell me more about the Blockbuster strategy?

A: We only bought it weeks ago so I can’t say much but I’m excited about the opportunity it provides, especially from a branding standpoint. They have a distribution system – physical and digital systems – that is mainstream. As technology evolves and allows to be cost effective, we will find opportunity.

Q: How long have you been in talks with Dish?

A: He’s mentioned it since I joined Echostar’s board two years ago. But it asked me one week ago last Tuesday. I was intrigued and last Monday was in Denver. Charlie and I move real fast.

 Q:  How do you think your relationship with content providers will change with your new online distribution plans?

A: I’m the guy who hired Howard Stearn and got NFL onto Sirius Radio. I’m really comfortable with content and programming. As we evolve, those relationships will evolve as well. There is great opportunity for us and programmers, and both will profit.

Cecilia Kang is a staff writer covering the business of media and entertainment.

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