Q. I am a Dish subscriber and it drives me crazy when Dish removes a channel for a long time. Even if it comes back, it still makes me crazy that I have to wait for it to come back. So when do you think Dish will get the NFL Network and Red Zone Channel back? If it’s not soon, I’m gone. — Harry, Carson, California.
Harry, as you note, Dish lost both the NFL Network and the NFL RedZone Channel on Thursday night due to a carriage dispute with their owner, the National Football League. The battle, which also includes the Dish-owned live streaming service, Sling TV, is over how much Dish should pay the league to carry the two channels.
While carriage disputes are becoming more commonplace in the pay TV industry, there’s no disputing that Dish is the undisputed champion of fee fights. (Forgive my criminally-wrong overuse of the word, dispute.)
The satellite TV service has gone toe to toe with the industry’s biggest programmers over the last few years, leading to both short-term and long-term blackouts. By example, Dish has been without HBO, and the Fox-branded regional sports channels, for a year or more due to separate carriage fights.
Charlie Ergen, Dish’s chairman and co-founder, has long preached that programmers are demanding too much in fees, and that his company would rather lose a channel than overpay. (It should be noted that Ergen’s hardline stance in negotiations extends to every negotiation whether it’s a carriage battle or a discussion over how much he should pay the neighbor boy to cut his grass. He refuses to take what he thinks is a bad deal.)
In addition, Dish has discovered over the years that channel blackouts can be profitable in some cases.
How is that?
The satcaster saves money for every month it does not pay the programmer while the channel is gone from the lineup.
You might say that Dish will lose money because some subscribers will cancel if they can’t watch their favorite channel. But Dish has calculated that the carriage fee savings often outweigh the losses incurred by defecting subscribers.
This is why I believe that Dish will not settle its fight with the NFL for at least a month or two, if not more.
Ergen knows he can wait in part because sports is a relatively low priority now thanks to the pandemic. After all, it’s not even clear there will be a 2020 NFL season, or pre-season. (The NFL Network is scheduled to air 65 pre-season games in 2020 as well as Thursday night regular season action.)
So it’s unlikely that many Dish subscribers will cancel because they can’t watch the NFL Network.
Meanwhile, Dish will save a significant amount of money by refusing to carry the channels in July, August and perhaps beyond.
Dish has all the leverage in this fee fight, and there’s little the league can do to change that.
That is, unless the NFL can invent a vaccine for the Coronavirus.
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— Phillip Swann