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Reading DirecTV Group (DTV) being mentioned by Blair Levin in his interview in Barron's reminded me of something. Specifically, that often there's not much to say about many of the portfolio's holdings -- especially when they gradually rise in price over time.

That's just not the stuff of headlines.

I recommended DirecTV in July 2005 at $15.50. It closed Friday at $21.91 -- a nice gain of more than 41% in 15 months. Most media-related holdings have done well this year.

In the Barron's interview, Levin wondered something posted here previously: speculation that Rupert Murdoch will give his controlling interest in DirecTV to John Malone, in return for Malone giving Murdoch his chunk of News Corp. (NWS) stock. As you know, I've always liked the Murdoch people running DirecTV because of their proven experience operating satellite companies. But I wouldn't mind John Malone gaining control, because he's a fine operator in his own right.

Levin goes on to say:

Once its ownership is decided, then the question of what the right market structure is for DBS can be decided. Should the DBS companies, DirecTV and EchoStar (DISH), try to merge again? Should one or both of the DBS companies be bought out? Should they just remain the way they are? The first two options are the most likely. The DBS companies have a problem because they don't have a broadband pipe and therefore they are missing the data and voice parts of the bundle as well as mobility. They're now competing in a market that is more difficult than the market of two or three years ago. Plus, the telcos are entering video, and competition from them is going to make the satellite companies' lives even more difficult.

Asked what they gain by merging, Levin says:

They get economies of scale that help them in the video business. But more importantly, they get a critical mass of subscribers that enables them to invest in a greenfields broadband build out.

And what are "greenfields"?

In other words, they would build a brand new network. They have apparently been talking with Clearwire, Craig McCaw's wireless broadband company. The DBS companies would put up the money so they could build out the network across the nation faster. Another avenue they are considering is investing with the mobile-satellite-services players to build out a network and offer on top of it a broadband offering and a Voice over IP [Internet protocol] offering. Suddenly they would have something that looks like the cable bundle or Bell bundle. The problem with that is there is significant regulatory risk were the government to turn down the merger. There is significant technology risk that an investment in Clearwire and the satellite services doesn't scale well, the technology doesn't work or it is too slow relative to what cable and the Bells can do. There is financial risk that it costs more to build it out. There is market risk that by the time it is built out all the good customers are taken. If you are Charlie Ergen, the CEO of EchoStar, or John Malone or Murdoch, there is also personal risk, which is: How well do they get along? The history of such mergers and joint ventures between Ergen and others has been the relationships don't last long.

Levin goes on to explain that the odds of a merger between DirecTV and EchoStar are a lot better today than before, though regulatory hurdles remain.

He also seems to think AT&T (T) might buy EchoStar, and that DirecTV may get left out.

We'll just have to see how this all plays out. And you can say that about most anything concerning broadcasting and media-related companies these days.

DTV-DISH 1-yr comparison chart:

DTV-DISH 1-yr comparison chart

Source: Is a DirecTV-EchoStar Merger a Good Idea?