TV Answer Man, I have read some of your predictions for 2022. Do you think that Dish’s blackout with the Tegna stations will end next year, or will it end by the first of this year? We want our station back! — Andrea, Fairfax, Virginia.
Andrea, Dish on October 6 lost 64 local network affiliates in 53 markets (CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC and the CW) in a carriage row with their owner, Tegna. (The stations include WUSA-TV, the CBS affiliate in the Fairfax, Virginia area.)
When the fee fight began, I thought it would last no more than a month, and perhaps just a few weeks. While pay TV operators sometimes engage in disputes with local broadcasters, it’s rare for one to lead to a protracted blackout. Both the provider and broadcaster usually are highly motivated to settle; the provider knows that some subscribers will cancel without local channels while the broadcaster knows that its advertising revenue can shrink minus the provider’s audience.
However, this carriage battle appears to be more bitter and contentious than most with both sides filing complaints with the Federal Communications Commission which charge the other with negotiating in bad faith. (The agency has yet to act on either complaint.) In public statements, Dish and Tegna have also offered no indication that a settlement is imminent.
Consequently, I don’t see a resolution here before Saturday, January 1. In fact, I predict that it will extend through much of the first quarter of 2022 before it’s over. And if the FCC doesn’t get involved, it could go even beyond that.
As the days progress, Dish is becoming less motivated to settle for two reasons:
1. Many of the subscribers who would cancel due to the blackout have already done so.
2. The college and NFL football seasons are coming to a close, which means that some of Dish’s customers — sports fans — will be less likely to watch local channels after January. (CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC all provide either college or NFL games.)
The pressure on Dish to end the fee fight will begin to ease, at least until later in the year when the 2022 football season begins.
Tegna knows this, but it must remain firm in its position. The broadcaster is currently entertaining bids to sell the company, and it wants to keep its value as high as possible during the process. If it were to suddenly lower its carriage demand with Dish, it could lead to lower fees from other TV providers when their contracts come up. So any company looking to buy Tegna will be watching this dispute closely.
Andrea, I wish I could be more hopeful. But I’m afraid that the Dish-Tegna fight is far from over.
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— Phillip Swann