Q. I read your article about Dish talking to the financial analysts. Did they say anything about Sinclair and the regional sports channels they own? Dish hasn’t had a deal with them for a year now and we want our channels back!! — Dave, Scottsdale, Arizona
Dave, you’re right. Dish has been without the 21 Fox-branded Regional Sports Networks (owned by Sinclair Broadcasting) since July 2019 due to a carriage dispute between the two companies. The RSNs have the in-market rights to air the games of MLB, NHL and NBA teams so their loss is particularly irksome now for Dish sports fans.
Dish last week held a conference call with financial analysts following the release of the company’s second quarter report. Normally, during the quarterly analyst call, the analysts quiz the executives on the most important issues facing the company at the time.
However, despite the importance of the RSNs to Dish, there was little discussion about the dispute during the conference call. And what was said offered little insight into when or if the Dish-Sinclair fee fight will be settled.
For instance, Rich Greenfield, an analyst with LightShed, asked Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen whether he thought programming rates in general should be reduced because so many programmers are selling their channels directly to the consumer via streaming.
While Sinclair does not offer their RSNs directly to consumers via a separate streaming package, the Dish chief used the question anyway to diminish the importance of regional sports networks. Ergen said Dish has saved money by not paying Sinclair during the last year, and he added that many Dish subscribers don’t watch the channels anyway.
“Our cash flow has been a little better than I think we had projected because of loss of regional sports, the loss of customers who’ve been rejected, because we knew that many of our customers don’t watch regional sports. So there are other categories where they’re approaching regional sports status where those costs are going up beyond what the value is in terms of customers watching those and those will all be, we’ll have to negotiate through that,” Ergen said.
Ergen did not mention Sinclair specifically, but that’s who he was likely referring to, considering Sinclair is the largest owner of RSNs in the nation. Plus, Dish and Sinclair are presumed to be currently negotiating a wide-ranging carriage agreement that could include the RSNs and Sinclair’s 100+ local network affiliates. (It’s unclear when Dish’s current agreement for the local stations expires, but Ergen suggested last February that it would be sometime this year. He also said then that the negotiations for the local stations could help lead to a deal for the RSNs.)
The analysts did not ask further questions regarding Sinclair, or regional sports in general, so we have only Ergen’s vague remarks to ponder. More frustrating, Sinclair last week also held a conference call with financial analysts, but the analysts did not ask a single question about Dish, or carriage deals.
The TV Answer Man will continue to monitor this situation, and report back here if and when we get more information.
Until then, happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann