Q. I thought Dish would have had the Fox regional sports channels back by now with the baseball and basketball seasons starting again soon. What’s new with this? Anything at all?! — Davey, Phoenix.
Davey, Dish (and its live streaming service, Sling TV) has been missing the 22 Fox-branded regional sports networks since July 2019 when it could not reach a new carriage agreement with their then owner, Disney. (After the dispute began, Disney, as expected, sold the channels to Sinclair Broadcasting.)
Both Dish and Sinclair have not talked publicly about the dispute in recent weeks, which is often a good sign in carriage stalemates. It can be an indicator that companies are serious about securing a new agreement and they don’t want to unduly irritate the other by issuing inflammatory statements. That’s not always the case, but if you notice, both Dish and Sinclair were highly critical of each other last year when negotiations were stalled.
There are two things that are also new since I last posted an article on the fee fight, and they also provide some hope we could soon see a settlement.
1. The Calendar
Yes, the calendar. In August 2012 and August 2015, Dish and Sinclair settled carriage disputes regarding Sinclair’s 100-plus local stations. That would suggest Sinclair’s current pact with Dish will end in August 2020, which is next month. (Carriage agreements usually begin and end at the same time.)
We know the current agreement ends in 2020 because Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said last February in a conference call with financial analysts that his satellite TV service would soon begin negotiations for Sinclair’s 100 plus local stations. He wouldn’t say ‘soon’ if the current deal was set to expire next year.
This is relevant because Ergen also noted that the Sinclair regionals could be part of that negotiation for the local stations. And it would appear that August 2020 is the deadline for a new deal.
So we can conclude that Dish and Sinclair are now, or will soon be, discussing a new carriage arrangement that could include both the local stations and the 22 regional sports networks. That doesn’t mean a deal is guaranteed, but Dish is more motivated now to pay for the regionals because it can’t afford to lose Sinclair’s local channels. (Sinclair will likely to demand they both be included in the deal.) The loss of the locals would impact far more customers than the loss of the regionals.
2. Sports Is Coming Back
The other positive change is that the NBA and MLB are returning this month after play was suspended in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The Fox regionals’ broadcasts of those games should generate strong ratings thanks to the nation’s pent-up demand for live sports. Dish knows that its sports-loving subscribers will go berserk if they can’t watch their favorite teams return.
Add the two together and I think odds are good for a Dish-Sinclair settlement in the coming weeks.
Davey, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann