EchoStar buried the hatchet with Viacom late Wed night, restoring 16 CBS O&Os and 10 natl cable nets to millions. Both parties also extended terms of existing carriage for Spike, CMT and TV Land. The agreement not only got Viacom content back into DISH HHs, but it augmented the menu with Nicktoons, a net EchoStar initially balked at carrying. While the blackout lasted just 2 days, it underscored the rift between programmers and distributors. Viacom pres/CEO Mel Karmazin apologized for the disruption and Charlie Ergen thanked subs for their patience. None of this came as too much of a surprise, as nearly every observer predicted the dispute wouldn’t interrupt the NCAA basketball tournament, which tips off March 18. [Coincidentally (?) DirecTV Thurs touted its signing of former U of UT coach Rick Majerus to promote its exclusive rights to CBS out-of-market broadcasts of the NCAAs.] — SEC Trouble: Soon after the accord was reached, EchoStar revealed it’s subject of a probe by the SEC that may require a restatement of its ’01 results. It also said it was delaying filing its 10-K for 2 weeks. Turns out the SEC believes EchoStar over accrued $17mln in ’01 and $9mln in ’02 for the expected replacement of smart cards, although as Wachovia notes, "if this is the extent of the SEC concerns, we struggle to see this as being an issue at all. Any adjustment will only make previously reported results look better." Meanwhile, EchoStar reported adding 340K net subs in 4Q, exceeding the Street’s expectations. EchoStar closed at $9.6, a hair above the opening $9.51. Viacom closed at $37.45, down less than 1%.

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Pai to Leave FCC in 2021

FCC chmn Ajit Pai intends to depart the Commission on Jan 20.

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