Q. I am hoping that Dish brings back my Fox sports channel that carries San Diego Padres baseball games. I miss my team. But I’m afraid that it will never come back. I read that Dish’s owner said the channel will never return. Is that true? — Claire, San Diego.
Claire, as you probably know, on July 26, both Dish and its live streaming service, Sling TV, lost 22 different Fox Sports regional channels (including your Fox Sports San Diego) due to a disagreement over how much they should pay Fox to carry them. The blackout has sports fans irate because the Fox Sports regionals have the exclusive rights to carry the local broadcasts of dozens of professional teams. (You can see the list of affected channels here.)
Carriage disputes have become more common in pay TV business, but they are usually settled in days, or perhaps a few weeks.
However, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen last week said “it doesn’t look good that regional sports will be on Dish again.” The satellite executive said he’s decided to simply stop paying the sports channels which have been demanding higher and higher fees over the last few years.
Some journalists have interpreted Ergen’s comments to mean that Dish and Sling TV will never carry a regional sports channel again. And on their face, I can understand that interpretation.
But as a journalist, I’ve covered Charlie Ergen for nearly three decades and I’ve learned that you can never take his comments in a negotiation at face value. He will say anything if he thinks it will increase his leverage.
By example, last year he said Univision would likely never be on Dish again when the two companies couldn’t reach a new carriage arrangement. However, several months later, Univision was back on Dish. (He did the same thing with Turner, CBS and several other networks during carriage talks. By suggesting the channel will never return, Ergen tries to pressure the network or channel to reduce its demand.)
So, I predict that Dish and Sling will reach a settlement with Fox within weeks. It might take even longer than that, but it will happen eventually. Dish and Sling desperately need the regional sports channels and Charlie Ergen knows it.
Unlike HBO, which hasn’t been on Dish and Sling since last fall due to a separate carriage dispute, the local regional sports channel is not available in a separate package from an online source.
(The local regional sports channel is blacked out on MLB.TV, the league’s online plan. But HBO Now, the network’s online service, is available in all markets.)
If Dish or Sling don’t carry the local regional sports channel, some sports fans will opt to cancel and subscribe to a different service that does, such as DIRECTV, or cable TV.
So, Claire, hang in there. I see this dispute ending sooner than later.
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— Phillip Swann