Dish Networks (NASDAQ:DISH) grabbed headlines by launching a content rental business through its Blockbuster unit. The service will offer a large collection of movie and television content available through internet streaming or DVDs by mail to existing Dish customers. In addition, customers will be able to rent video games by mail.
The move was a substantial step for the satellite television operator. It is perhaps more interesting because DISH positions itself as a competitor to the popular content rental company, Netflix Inc (NASDAQ:NFLX), whose recent missteps have pushed the stock price to less than a half of its 52-week high.
Still, DISH's entrance into the streaming and DVD content rental business should not be viewed as a surprise following the company's $320 million purchase of Blockbuster early this year. Instead, what's more interesting to us is the discussion of possible acquisitions. Dish Network CEO Joseph Clayton said that wireless operations like Sprint (NYSE:S) and Clearwire (CLWR) are both potential partners or acquisition targets.
“We’ll look at partnerships, acquisitions, all of the above,” Clayton said today in an interview in San Francisco. Asked whether that could include buying or partnering with Clearwire or Sprint, he said: “Could be.”
Of course, while it is easy to discuss possibilities, the devil is always in the details. Clearwire and Sprint both present similar challenges and opportunities. Each company clearly gives DISH a way to build out its capacity and broaden its reach, but Sprint and Clearwire are both burdened by sizeable debt loads. Sprint's enterprise value is close to $24 billion, while its market capitalization is around $9.5 billion. Clearwire's enterprise valuation is closer to $4 billion, a much more manageable amount for Dish, but still a capital structure changing figure.
While we don't discount the possibility of a Sprint or Cleawire partnership or acquisition, we think DISH's aggressiveness could also put both Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) and Netflix Inc (NFLX) on the acquisition radar. Through SIRI, Dish Networks would gain 21 million paying subscribers. Just as importantly, the company purchases a company with a unique subscriber base, original content and its own distribution system. With an enterprise value of $8.87 billion, a merger with DISH is possible. For all of NFLX's recent stumbles, it is hard to argue with its success. The company fended off traditional rental companies like Blockbuster and Movie Gallery, and grew into a major international business. While stock valuations have likely gotten ahead of the stock, if the price continues to drop, DISH may very well see the benefit of merging with NFLX and betting on additional synergies, especially when dealing with content acquisition.
Investors may be captivated by Dish Network's new content rental offerings, but we think the real story is the company's aggressiveness and stated willingness to seek out partners and acquisition targets. Shareholders should take a closer look at DISH and the other stocks mentioned in this article. The right merger could lead to significant upside potential.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a long position in DISH, SIRI over the next 72 hours.