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Earnings Preview: Dish Network's 'Hopper,' Wireless Spectrum in Focus

When Dish reports earnings, before the bell Wednesday, the big question is how it'll make its year of investment pay off. In 2012 it kept prices steady, as it invested in marketing, and doubled down on its controversial 'Hopper' ad skipping technology, which has drawn outrage and lawsuits from media giants.

Now the Hopper is very much in focus: Will the appeal of ad-skipping help Dish grow subscribers? Or is the company's disrespect for the dominant media model mean it's playing with fire?

Wall Street expects the company to report 2 percent lower revenue of $3.56 billion on 29 percent lower earnings per share of .50 cents. But perhaps more important are Dish's subscriber numbers: analysts, on average, expect the satellite TV provider to report 44,000 net additions and a 1.55 percent churn.

The big question is how much Dish is spending for each of those additions.

Another key area to watch is the company's push to grow its wireless spectrum. On the heels of its $5.15 billion bid to buy Clearwire, the wireless network operator, investors are looking for an update on Dish's plans.

(Read More: Dish Network Offers To Buy Clearwire for $3.30 Per Share)

Deutsche Bank analyst Doug Mitchelson, who rated Dish a 'buy' wrote "we believe DISH or its terrestrial AWS [advanced wireless services] spectrum may become of interest for a strategic buyer."

Deutsche Bank's Mitchelson said that while investors "will likely remain split" on Chairman Charles Ergen's strategy — the choices being to either build via partnership or sell the assets of the company. But Mitchelson does expect him to pursue both at the same time.

(Read More: Can Dish Blow Up the Spectrum Market?)

Dish is facing growing competition, not just from rival DirecTV, but also from the cable providers (Comcast and Time Warner) as well as the telecom companies (Verizon and AT&T), not to mention the slew of digital content distributors, like Netflix, and now newcomers like Redbox Instant (Constar). And with rising competition comes rising content costs.

For a look at Chairman Ergen's controversial approach to the crowded space, check out my blog on his appearance at the 'Dive into Media' conference last week: Dish's Charlie Ergen Talks Ads, Cord-Cutting and Netflix.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin; Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.