TV Answer Man, we lost our channel 9, CBS, station last night on Dish. There’s a fight between the station owner and Dish. Do you know how long this is supposed to last? Will it be over by Sunday’s football games? My son loves football. — Liz, Fairfax, Virginia.
Liz, Dish last night lost 64 local network affiliates in 53 markets (CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC and the CW) in a carriage dispute with their owner, Tegna, including your local CBS affiliate, WUSA-TV.
The satcaster says Tegna is requesting an excessive carriage fee in part because Tegna is planning to sell the company and wants to improve its balance sheet.
“Tegna is looking to sell its stations to the higher bidder, and is simply trying to exploit DISH customers as a way to get the maximum price and further fatten their wallets,” Dish said in a statement.
Dish was referring to a Tegna statement last month acknowledging that it was accepting proposals to acquire the company.
However, a Tegna spokeswoman says Dish refuses to pay a rate based on terms accepted by other pay TV providers.
“Dish has refused to reach a fair, market-based agreement with us based on the competitive terms we’ve used to reach deals with numerous other providers that reflect the current market,” the Tegna spokeswoman said.
Who’s telling the truth? Since carriage negotiations are not made public, it’s impossible to say. It’s likely that, as usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
But we can offer an educated guess to how long this dispute will last based on the track record of both companies. Here are some important bellwethers:
* Dish and Tegna have engaged in two previous carriage blackouts, in 2015 and 2018. The first one lasted a few days while the second one less than a day.
* Tegna was involved in a 19-day blackout with DIRECTV, U-verse, and AT&T TV (now DIRECTV Stream) last December in a separate fee fight.
* Both Dish and Tegna have demonstrated a willingness to allow a blackout to persist if needed to help their negotiating position. In fact, Dish is known as the king of pay TV blackouts, and at one point in 2020, was missing 236 different channels due to carriage battles.
* However, Dish is more likely to settle disputes involving local channels, particularly if it’s a large group, such as Tegna. Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has frequently commented that the loss of local channels is likely to trigger significant subscriber defections. He’s more inclined to find common ground with local channels than, say, regional sports channels. (For example, Dish recently averted a blackout with the Sinclair Broadcast group, which has 100+ local channels. The two companies in August extended their current carriage agreement while continuing talks for a new one.)
Based on those four factors, I would foresee this Dish-Tegna fee fight lasting less than a month, and perhaps even less than a week. But that said, Ergen is always the wild card in these scraps. The former professional blackjack player is arguably the industry’s toughest negotiator and he’s willing to wait for the best cards if necessary.
Liz, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann