Q. I haven’t had my CBS station on Dish in months. Is there a chance this fight will end anytime soon? How much longer can it take? Is the station gone forever? Dish and WHIO seem to really dislike each other? — Teresa, Dayton, Ohio.
Teresa, Dish last July lost 14 local network affiliates due to a fee fight with Cox Media, which manages the stations. (Apollo Global Management owns the stations, but hired Cox as its management team.) The stations include WHIO-TV, the CBS affiliate in the Dayton, Ohio area.
Since the dispute began, both sides have occasionally issued stern statements suggesting the other is to blame. This is customary in long-term carriage disputes and should not be regarded as evidence they will never settle.
But Dish CEO Charlie Ergen actually said something last week that would suggest the two sides will never settle. In a conference call with financial analysts and journalists following the release of Dish’s third quarter report, Ergen said this:
“I would say in general when somebody has been down for three, four months, it’s not likely they’re coming back,” Ergen said in response to a question about the Cox Media stations. ”Because what happens is you lose the customer — if there is really somebody who want to watch that particular network and they’re gone. All right. they’ve gone out and found another — they put an offer intend on place, they’ve found an another alternative to find it, they are online finding it, they’ve got the Hulu or they’ve gone somewhere else, they have gone to a competitor. If we weren’t willing to pay the price that they offered four months ago, we’re certainly not going to pay the higher price today than what we offered before because we don’t need customers who want to watch it.”
That is an alarming statement if you’re hoping for your local station to return to Dish’s lineup. Ergen is saying there is little reason for his company to pay Cox now because many Cox viewers have likely cancelled Dish by now because they can’t watch a favorite local channel.
I understand what Ergen is saying. But I don’t believe him.
First, many Dish subscribers are bound to two-year programming agreements that require termination penalties ($20 a month for every month left in the contract) if you cancel early. Consequently, a Cox viewer is not likely to cavalierly drop Dish just because a local channel isn’t available.
Second, WPXI-TV, the Cox Media-managed NBC station in Pittsburgh, suddenly reappeared in Dish’s lineup this week. The companies did not offer an explanation, but the ongoing controversy over Pennsylvania’s election results could have been a factor. Dish subscribers in the Pittsburgh area can now get news about the vote count from all their local stations. (WPXI says the reinstatement is “temporary.”)
Regardless of the reason, however, it shows that Dish and Cox are still talking and amicably so.
Third, Dish is negotiating a separate agreement with Cox Media for 18 different local stations managed by Cox. The talks have been extended several times, more evidence that Dish and Cox are still talking and, again, amicably so.
I suspect Ergen last week was just posturing to gain leverage in the negotiations. That doesn’t mean a settlement is imminent, but I think it does mean it’s still a serious possibility. (You can see a list of the Cox Media stations here.)
Teresa, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann