TV Answer Man, I read your post yesterday on a possible merger between DIRECTV and Dish and whether Charlie Ergen would take over the merged company. If Ergen does, I am afraid that he would get rid of all regional sports channels on DIRECTV including Bally Sports which has our teams in the San Diego area. What are your thoughts on that? We are very worried. — Mano, San Diego.
Mano, you’re right. I wrote an article yesterday explaining why Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen would likely run a combined DIRECTV-Dish company if they merged. (Ergen hinted last week that the two companies could merge sometime after tomorrow’s mid-term congressional elections.)
There’s no doubt that current DIRECTV subscribers would have a different experience under Ergen who has long asserted that regional sports networks charge excessive carriage fees. Dish does not carry any regional sports networks and the Dish chief might decide that DIRECTV shouldn’t, either, particularly as the RSNs have begun selling their feeds directly to consumers.
With the satellite TV rapidly losing subscribers, Ergen could conclude that jettisoning RSNs is necessary to survive in the coming years. The DIRECTV-Dish merged company could instead focus on services and products that most of its subscribers have difficulty getting from anyone else, particularly in rural areas where satellite is still a popular choice due to limited Internet access.
(I’ll focus on what those services and products might be in a future column.)
That said, I don’t see DIRECTV subscribers losing the Sinclair-owned Bally Sports regional channels anytime soon.
Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley last May was asked in a financial analyst call when his company’s carriage pacts with both DIRECTV and Comcast expire. (The carriage agreement for DIRECTV also includes DIRECTV Stream and U-verse.)
“They are both in the back half of 2023,” Ripley responded.
The ‘back half’ of 2023 would start in July but Sinclair and DIRECTV last signed a carriage pact in October 2019 so it’s more likely that the current pact runs until at least October 2023. And despite Ergen’s disdain for RSNs, I don’t see him trying to cancel the current contract under a combined Dish-DIRECTV company.
Plus, even if the companies merge in the next month or so, it would likely take close to a year before federal regulators approved the deal. That is, if they approve it at all.
Bottom line: DIRECTV subscribers could lose Bally Sports, and other regional sports networks, under an Ergen-led company. But Bally Sports on DIRECTV seems to be safe until well into 2023.
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— Phillip Swann