Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has slapped back at Sinclair Broadcasting, saying the broadcaster and satcaster could still sign a new carriage agreement before the current one expires on August 16.

Sinclair yesterday issued a press release stating that it’s unlikely that Dish and Sinclair will sign a new agreement before August 16. If the companies don’t sign a new pact by then, Dish could lose Sinclair’s 112 local TV stations, and the Sinclair-owned Tennis Channel. In addition, Dish would not resume carrying Sinclair’s 19 Bally Sports regional sports networks.

Dish, and its live streaming service, Sling TV, have been without the regional sports networks since July 2019 due to a separate fee fight. (Sling would also lose the local Sinclair stations if a new pact is not signed.)

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“I’m disappointed that they put a press release out that they expected the networks to come down since I think we have until August 16th, so,” Ergen told analysts in a conference call following the release of Dish’s second quarter report. “And obviously, many negotiations come down to the wire. So, we’re still going to bargain in good faith and…disappointed that they seem to come to the conclusion channels are coming down at this point.”

Ergen, however, suggested that many Dish subscribers will not be significantly hurt if the satellite TV service does not carry the local stations or the regional sports nets.

“The good news for our customers…they have other ways to get their channels,” Ergen said. “First of all, they watch them less, the network is less and they have other ways to get those networks…they haven’t had all those ways in the past…The impact of local channels used to be devastating. It’s still pretty bad, but not the same. And there’s other alternatives.”

Ergen did not name any new methods to watch local channels. But Locast, a streaming app, now offers local channels for free in 36 markets. In addition, many Dish subscribers can get their local channels via the traditional TV antenna.

However, Locast requires a high-speed Internet service, something that’s not available in some Dish markets, and the antenna may not deliver a strong signal in other areas.

As for the Bally Sports channels, Ergen said subscriber interest is now minimal considering that the regional sports nets (RSNs) have been gone for so long. The Dish chief suggested that most RSN fans have already dropped Dish in favor of other services.

“We don’t have any customers calling us on RSNs today,” Ergen said.

But he acknowledged that the loss of Sinclair’s local channels would upset some.

“To the extent the local channels were to go down, we would have more than one customer call us the next day and say, where is my local channel, in those particular markets,” he said. “So, our focus is on making sure that our customers aren’t disenfranchised for their local channels.”

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— Phillip Swann