MediaFile

Dish’s Charlie Ergen: Me and Mel don’t have a beef

Ah the media, we love a ruckus. We really do. And when the two pugilists are characters as colorful and savvy as Dish Network’s founder Charlie Ergen (left) and Siriux XM Satellite Radio CEO Mel Karmazin (right) we do really get excited.

If you remember, Ergen was widely reported last month to have made a back door bid to take a stake in Sirius XM by quietly buying up some of the satellite radio company’s outstanding debt.  Analysts and experts came up with all kind of theories as to Ergen’s ambitions including taking complete control of Sirius on the cheap, combining various satellite assets, and kicking Mel out.

At the time Ergen ‘s official channels at Dish and EchoStar declined to comment on the matter. So today’s Dish earning call was the first time we heard from the man himself on the matter. Well, it turns out the press was right on most things connected with the Sirius bid, according to Ergen. Except for one thing: he does not have bad blood with Sirius CEO Karmazin.

Here’s Ergen from the conference call:

I would take this opportunity to say one thing that clearly was not true is there wasn’t, at least I can speak for my end, there’s no annimosity toward Mel, Parsons [former XM chair] or anything like that.

I don’t know where they got that. Certainly not from our side.

Really?

Maybe the stories of an old feud were overplayed, but there might have something other than pure cold financial logic that influenced Mel’s final decision on this deal. Liberty Media beat Ergen in the bid for a stake in the beleaguered satellite radio business by offering to pay off Sirius’ due loans. In an interview with Reuters shortly after winning the Sirius bid last month, Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei implied there may have been some… ahem, personality issues in its favor.

Liberty: Stern is safe — for now

So after two weeks of following all the twists and turns of Sirius XM’s attempts to avoid bankruptcy, CEO Mel Karmazin decided on John Malone, founder of Liberty Media, to come in as Sirius XM’s white knight with a $530 million loan . The loan will cover the satellite radio provider’s looming debt and help it avoid bankruptcy. As part of the deal Liberty will eventually take a 40 percent stake in Sirius’ equity.

But does this mean the big money deals that Karmazin signed with the likes of Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey and Major League Baseball will get re-worked at a more favorable rate for the company now that there’s a new major stakeholder?

No, says Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei in an interview with Reuters.

You can look and say some of these content deals were cut at a time when there were two guys (Sirius and XM) bidding against each other in a relative frenzy. Having said that, a lot of these content relationships like Howard Stern are very valuable to this company, have been important in building the company, and are likely to be important in sustaining it.

Malone, Diller and the story that ended the affair

maffei-sun-valley.jpgMedia titans John Malone and Barry Diller knew they had their fair share of disagreements over the years, but like many couples heading to divorce, they apparently needed someone else to tell them that.

Enter Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Vascellaro.

The media industry read with rapt interest her story in October that put in plain language how much tension had built up between the two over their partnership in IAC/InterActiveCorp. 

But as the two moguls duke it out in Delaware court this week, they keep invoking that story, day after day, as the moment that sent their relationship past the point of no return. 

Did Greg get between John and Barry?

malone-arrives.jpgJohn Malone is famous in the media industry for his complex deal-making skills that have confounded some of the best minds in business. But he seemed almost forlorn in Delaware court today when talking about the unraveling of his relationship with Barry Diller, the former television and film honcho who built up IAC/InterActiveCorp with his backing.About halfway through a rigorous cross examination by Marc Wolinsky, who was representing IAC, Malone’s responses gave us the impression that his lieutenant and CEO Greg Maffei had a hand in precipitating a difficult business dispute into all-out war. Here are some chapter headings from his direct testimony and cross-examination:The tension dates years back to Maffei’s role in Expedia’s sale to IAC. When Maffei was appointed CEO of Liberty Media in 2005, Malone said Diller branded it a “poor choice.”“I knew there was a history. I knew that Barry was complaining that there was no cooperation between Expedia and Hotels.com … he thought that was wrong. I’m not sure I was aware of any personality difference until much later.”By 2006, Maffei was making comments that questioned the solidity of Diller’s control over IAC, under a proxy agreement to vote Liberty shares. Barry had some feelings about that.“Mr Diller was very unhappy or upset that Mr Maffei would make these … claims or references, anything that would undermine his confidence that he had the voting power.”When Maffei and Liberty counsel suggested a way to weaken Diller’s proxy, Malone said he objected.“I told them that I regarded it as brain damage. (So what did you do when Maffei persisted in his argument?) I would assume that he has something in mind in terms of it being a viable legal argument, or because our lawyers are telling him they believe it’s a valuable and appropriate legal position.”By late 2007, Maffei took a more aggressive stance when it came to pushing Diller to compensate Liberty for the declining value of its IAC stake, Malone said.“I would say Mr Maffei believed it was in the interest of Liberty to try and separate our interests from IAC and Expedia. I think Mr Maffei can be pugilistic where these issues are concerned.”Because at the end of the day, Malone would be happy to make up with good ol’ Barry. Asked if he preferred to litigate their dispute in Colorado rather than Delaware, he said:“I didn’t want to have to sue Mr. Diller anywhere. I still hold him no ill-will and I still seek a win-win solution for our disputes. I don’t think any of us likes that we are having an open dispute after 13, 14 years of building value together.”Cue one Denver sunset please.(Photo: Reuters/John Randolph/ Liberty Media Corporation Chairman John Malone returns to Chancery court in Wilmington Delaware)