Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen once said he didn’t think the Fox regional sports networks would ever come back to his company’s satellite TV service. But yesterday, Ergen seemed to hold the door open for their return, albeit just slightly.
Both Dish and its live streaming service, Sling TV, lost 22 different Fox Sports regional channels last July 26 due to a disagreement over how much they should pay to carry them. (Although the channels carry the Fox name, they are actually now owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, which purchased them over the summer.)
Ergen yesterday was asked in a conference call with financial analysts if he thought a deal could be reached with Sinclair, perhaps as part of a larger negotiation when Dish’s contract to carry Sinclair’s 100 plus local stations expires. (It’s unclear when that agreement ends, but it could be as early as this summer.)
“We really like Sinclair the company,” Ergen said in the conference call which followed the release of the company’s fourth quarter report.
He added that if Sinclair owned the regional sports channels during the last Dish-Sinclair local station negotiation (in 2015), it’s conceivable they could have been part of that agreement. (Disney owned the sports channels last July when Dish could not reach a new deal to carry them.)
“It was an unfortunate circumstance in that Sinclair did not own the regional sports (when) our contract was up,” Ergen said.
However, that doesn’t mean that Dish and Sinclair are guaranteed to strike a new deal for the RSNs when they discuss a new carriage pact for all Sinclair properties. Ergen said that the channels are now worth less to Dish and Sling TV because some subscribers who watched them have left the two services.
“We still have some people that might want to watch regional sports. But it’s a fraction of what it was last (July) when they came down,” Ergen said. “So, the programmers have a hard time understanding that once somebody leaves their network, there’s no reason to put something back and tax the rest of people because the people who really watch the channel leave us because they have alternatives. So, the math was clear that the kind of offer we had from the Disney folks at the time that our contract was up was not even close to something that made sense for us.”
He added: “We’ve had a great relationship with Sinclair for a long period of time. But whether you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again remains an open question.”
If Dish expects to offer less than what it offered to pay last summer, it’s unclear if Sinclair would accept that. Therefore, the stalemate could last for an indefinite period of time, and perhaps even make the next negotiation for Dish to carry Sinclair’s local stations more problematic.
However, for Dish subs who want to watch the Fox regionals, at least the satcaster’s top executive is offering a scenario for their return.
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— Phillip Swann