Q. Do you expect Dish customers in Spokane to miss Super Bowl LIV, and do you expect this blackout to last for months? — Rachel, Spokane, Washington.
Rachel, as you know, on January 18, Dish lost 18 Apollo Global-owned local stations in 10 markets when the carriage agreement between the two companies expired. The stations include your local Fox affiliate in Spokane, KAYU-TV, as well as Fox affiliates in Binghamton, New York, Greenfield, Mississippi, Medford, Oregon, and Yakima, Washington. (Dish also lost affiliates for several CBS, NBC and ABC stations in such markets as Yuma, Arizona and Eureka, California.)
As usual in these fights, Dish is claiming that Apollo is demanding excessive fees to carry its stations while the latter says it’s only asking for what other pay TV providers have paid. We don’t know the truth, of course, because the negotiations are conducted behind closed doors, and carriage terms are never disclosed when they are agreed upon. But it’s safe to suggest that the truth, as also is usual, is likely somewhere in the middle.
But the dispute this week has become more tense for Dish subscribers in the Fox markets because the network on Sunday will broadcast Super Bowl LIV. Without Fox in their Dish lineup, viewers will need to install antennas (assuming they can pick up the local Fox signal) or switch to another TV provider. The latter is not always easily done because many Dish subscribers are on two-year contracts with the satcaster which charges a penalty for early termination.
So, will this battle end before Sunday to make life easier for all Apollo/Dish viewers, particularly those in the Fox markets?
I don’t have any inside information, but Dish has a history of playing hardball with programmers and is not afraid of lengthy blackouts. In fact, the satcaster has publicly crowed about how much money it saves during the blackouts because it doesn’t have to pay the programmers during the dispute. While some subscribers may cancel during a blackout, Dish has calculated that the cost savings exceed the losses caused by the defections.
I think Apollo, which just assumed ownership of the 18 stations two months ago, will also take a hardline stance in the talks. The company is being tested for the first time and undoubtedly wants to create the perception that it’s no pushover.
Rachel, I wish I could be more confident, but you might want to start thinking about an antenna. (You can try calling Dish which has offered free antennas in similar disputes.) This blackout could last for months.
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— Phillip Swann