Q. I am really bummed that Dish lost HBO and Cinemax last night. They are my two favorite channels, by far. I know they are fighting over money, but how long do you think this thing will last? — Morty, Corsicana, Texas.
Morty, as you know, Dish, and its live streaming service, Sling TV, last night lost both HBO and Cinemax after Dish could not reach a new carriage agreement with the channels’ new owner, AT&T. The companies are fighting over how much Dish and Sling should pay to carry the channels.
Programming blackouts caused by carriage disputes can last anywhere from a few hours or days to several months, depending upon the agendas of the fighting companies. In this case, I’m afraid that it’s more likely to last months than days or hours.
Why? Two reasons:
1. AT&T, which this year took ownership of HBO and Cinemax following its merger with Time Warner, wants to draw a line with its first high-profile carriage battle after the deal.
The company believes that HBO is an elite channel, one that every pay TV provider must have or risk losing subscribers. Consequently, AT&T wants to set a unprecedented benchmark price for HBO (and Cinemax) that it will try to impose later on other pay TV services.
This is not just another negotiation for AT&T. This is all about laying the groundwork for dramatically increased carriage fees for years to come.
2. Dish has a history of playing tough in carriage negotiations, which has often led to long blackouts. They know what AT&T is up to and they are happy to wait them out if necessary.
While some subscribers could flee, it’s more likely that they will simply sign up for the standalone version of HBO (HBO Now) which costs the same as the Dish/Sling version. With the easy availability of HBO Now, it’s very easy for Dish to say no to AT&T’s demands at this point.
So, Morty, I’m afraid the prognosis is bad right now. But I will keep you and everyone else informed as developments warrant.
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