TV Answer Man, I have Dish and I want the Bally Sports regional sports channels but they won’t bring them back. I am thinking of switching to DIRECTV, but I don’t want to switch and then see them get in the same fight with Bally Sports and I’ll lose my channel. Do you know how long their contract with Bally is? This has become a very complicated situation. — Dot, Scottsdale, Arizona. 

Dot, you are not alone in your concern. The loss of a favorite channel due to a carriage battle has become commonplace, particularly in the regional sports category. Dish and Sling TV have basically lost all their regional sports nets while YouTube TV, Hulu Live and FuboTV have lost the Bally Sports nets, among others. The pay TV operators are trying to cut costs, but the programmers are continuing to raise their carriage fees, which is triggering the blackouts.

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The viewers are caught in the middle of this increasingly contentious situation. And the dilemma is even more concerning for those who are locked in two-year contracts with their cable or satellite service. If their pay TV operator drops a channel, they can’t switch to another service without breaking the contract and being forced to pay a termination penalty. And if they choose to accept that punitive penalty, and switch to another service, they run the risk that the second operator might engage in a dispute with that channel as well!

The matter is even more complicated because the pay TV operators and programmers do not publish when their current agreements end. So the viewer can’t make an informed decision on which provider to get. For example, if you knew that DIRECTV’s agreement to carry Bally Sports didn’t end for three years, you could subscribe with the confidence that you wouldn’t lose your regional net at least until then. But we don’t know that.

What we do know is that AT&T, which negotiates on behalf of DIRECTV, last signed a multi-year agreement with Sinclair (the owner of the Bally Sports channels) in October 2019. Multi-year carriage agreements usually last at least three years so the odds are good that DIRECTV’s deal to carry Bally Sports won’t end at least until October 2022, and maybe well beyond that.

But, unfortunately, that’s just a educated guess. If I hear of anything that might suggest the agreement will end sooner than that, I will update this article.

Until then, happy viewing, and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann