Dish vs. Fox: When Will the Blackout End?

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Q. Hey, I just lost my Fox channel on Dish. What the hell! What’s going on?! And when will the channel come back? Before Sunday’s games, I hope!! — Charlie, Des Moines, Iowa. 

Update: Dish and Fox announced on October 6 that they have signed a new deal, ending the blackout.

Charlie, Dish and its live streaming service, Sling TV, today lost the local Fox affiliates in 16 markets, as well as FS1, FS2, the Big Ten Network, Fox Soccer Plus and Fox Deportes, due to a carriage dispute with Fox.

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(This should not be confused with Dish’s carriage battle with the Fox regional sports channels, which actually are now owned by Sinclair. Dish and Sling TV have been without the regionals since July 26. The Dish-regional sports fight is part of a separate agreement.)

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Since the blackout just began, it’s difficult to say when it might end. However, the initial statements from Dish and Fox suggest it won’t be resolved soon. The companies are firing away at point blank range.

“Taken together, Fox’s actions are profoundly anti-consumer,” Dish stated. “Fox is raising prices and turning its back on its public obligation to provide channels to consumers for free. It’s clear that Fox cares more about padding its bottom line than serving its viewers.”

“Dish/Sling is at it again, choosing to drop leading programming as a negotiating tactic regardless of the impact on its own customers,” Fox said in a statement. “Dish/Sling elected to drop Fox networks in an effort to coerce us to agree to outrageous demands. While we regret this is Dish/Sling’s preferred approach to negotiating, we remind our loyal viewers that the Fox services are widely available through every major television provider.”

I’ve covered these fee fights for nearly two decades. When the two companies are expressing this much anger so soon after talks break down, it usually means they are very, very far apart.

However, that said, I suspect the Dish-Fox dispute will not last nearly as long as the Dish-Fox regional sports channel battle, which began on July 26 and still continues. Dish needs those local Fox affiliates even more than the regional sports channels, particularly now when the 2019 NFL regular season has three months to go. (Fox has the broadcast rights to NFL games.)

While the missing Fox channels only represent 16 markets, they include some major ones such as Washington, D.C, Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Chicago, and Dallas.

So I think Dish will be more flexible in their negotiations than usual. (Yes, Fox has a point when it accuses Dish of using blackouts as leverage.) This will lead to a settlement sometime in October. I won’t say exactly when, but I would guess before Fox begins coverage of the 2019 World Series in late October.

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