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EchoStar: Feud won’t doom Voom

Ergen hopes to close deal within three to six months

NEW YORK — EchoStar chair-CEO Charles Ergen said Thursday that he doesn’t expect the Dolan family feud to disrupt his plans to buy the Voom satellite from Cablevision.

Ergen told Wall Street investors during an earnings call that the deal will close once Washington regulators give their approval, probably within three to six months.

“Other than that, we intend to move forward with the transaction,” Ergen said.

Some Wall Streeters had questioned whether the sat sale would actually go through considering the infighting between Cablevision chair Charles Dolan and his son, CEO James Dolan.

Against the wishes of his father, the younger Dolan persuaded a majority of the Cablevision board to scrap the high-definition Voom satcasting venture and sell off the satellite to EchoStar.

Charles Dolan responded by saying he’ll tap into his cash and Cablevision stock to keep Voom’s remaining assets going, including 21 high-definition channels, roughly 46,000 subscribers and a lease on a satellite service. Cablevision board has given him until March 31 to come up with a plan.

Ergen said Charles Dolan has “always been a true visionary” and that it says something about the strength of the satellite TV biz when a veteran cable exec like Dolan wants to go into satcasting.

Also during the earnings call, Ergen confirmed that EchoStar’s audit committee had indeed discovered irregularities with record-keeping in prior years but that no changes are being required to the company’s financial statements.

Ergen said audit was prompted when an unidentified employee quit and raised accusations in a resignation letter. He said the allegations, which prompted a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry, were shared with outside auditors as well.

EchoStar shares, which were hurt in recent days by news of the SEC inquiry, closed up 81¢ Thursday at $29.64. Company reported profits of $70 million in the last quarter compared with just $3 million in the final quarter of 2003. Driving growth was an increase in subscribers of 430,000.

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