Q. I subscribed to Dish for the first time a year ago and I like the prices compared to DIRECTV. Their customer service also treats me better in my opinion. But all these blackouts. That I can’t understand. Why does Dish have so many of these fights with people? Isn’t it unusual? — Penny, Orlando.
Penny, you are right. It is unusual. Studies have found that Dish engages in more carriage disputes, which lead to channel blackouts, than any other pay TV provider. By a wide margin, I might add.
For instance, Dish is now without HBO, the NFL Network, 21 Fox regional sports channels (owned by Sinclair), Altitude Sports, 60 Scripps-owned local TV stations, and 14 Apollo Global-owned local stations due to six separate fee fights. Those are some big holes in the Dish lineup.
In addition, over the last year, the satcaster lost dozens of other channels, including 16 local Fox network affiliates, for a period of time before securing carriage agreements.
Why does this keep happening?
Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen.
Ergen is unquestionably the industry’s toughest, and most prickly, negotiator. Once a professional blackjack and poker player (we’re not kidding), the Dish chief believes that negotiations are about winning, not exacting a deal where both sides walk away happy.
He simply won’t sign an agreement if he thinks he’s leaving money on the table.
In fact, Ergen has repeatedly said he’s willing to allow certain channels to be removed from his service’s lineup if it means paying their owners less money when they return. (That is, if they return. Dish has been missing HBO now for nearly two years.)
He will also use a carriage dispute as a money-saving device because he doesn’t have to pay the programmer during the blackout period. For instance, Ergen’s decision to allow the NFL Network to leave in June allows Dish to withhold carriage payments to the channel during the summer when interest in football is low. He’s saving money while incurring relatively little anger from subscribers. (Of course, that will change if Dish doesn’t return the NFL Network in time for the 2020 season.)
Bottom line, Penny, if you subscribe to Dish, the odds are good that you will lose more channels in the coming months, perhaps including one that you watch regularly. The flip side is that Dish usually settles these scraps at some point, and the hardline negotiating stance does help the company keep prices more reasonable than some pay TV providers.
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— Phillip Swann