By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man –@tvanswerman
TV Answer Man, it seems like you’re writing about Dish losing channels all the time because of fights with the channels. My question is how does this company survive? Why don’t the subscribers just switch to another service? Does Dish have some special magic that keeps everyone from cancelling? — Justin, San Jose.
Justin, Dish has lost hundreds of channels over the last few years due to carriage disputes, far more than any other pay TV provider. The satcaster often settles the disputes after lengthy blackouts — but not always — but it currently is missing 77 network affiliates due to four separate fee fights. Dish subscribers have been without 37 Hearst-owned local stations since September 8; 13 Cox Media stations since last November; 25 Mission-owned stations since January; and two White Knight locals since January as well. The frequent programming interruptions would seem to be enough to drive millions of subscribers away every year.
However, Dish has lost ‘just’ one million subscribers in the past year, which was about 10 percent of its total from 2021. While that’s not anything to brag about, it’s roughly 500,000 less than what DIRECTV lost in the same time period, according to Leichtman Research. And DIRECTV had fewer programming blackouts in 2022. So how does Dish do it? Why isn’t it losing even more subscribers? Three reasons:
1. Dish subscribers believe the satcaster offers lower prices.
Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen frequently says that Dish is able to keep prices from rising as much as its rivals because it’s willing to play hardball in carriage negotiations. The claim is debatable — DIRECTV’s prices are similar in comparable packages — but Dish’s subscribers seem to buy in. In e-mails to your truly, and social media posts, the satcaster’s customers often say they approve of Ergen’s tough negotiating stance because it helps keep their prices down. The Dish chairman has a reputation with his audience as someone who’s looking out for them. That shouldn’t be underestimated here. People root for Ergen. Comcast, DIRECTV, Charter’s Spectrum TV and other pay TV services don’t have a well-known leader on top. They are viewed more as uncaring anonymous corporations, be that a fair view or not. Dish also backs up its claim with a three-year price guarantee.
2. Many Dish subscribers can’t switch due to 2-year contracts.
Like DIRECTV, Dish requires new subscribers to sign two-year agreements that include a $20 a month termination penalty if they cancel early. Unlike live streaming services, which do not require contracts, it can be financially painful to leave Dish even if it loses your favorite channel. At $20 a month, the termination penalty could be in the hundreds of dollars.
3. Many Dish subscribers live in rural areas where Dish and DIRECTV are the only options.
Federal studies have shown that between 20-40 million people live in areas where high-speed Internet service is either not available or is limited. Cable TV is also not readily available in these markets. Consequently, for many Dish subscribers, they have two choices for quality TV: Dish or DIRECTV. When Dish loses a channel, they can switch to DIRECTV (assuming they are not in a contract) but the hassle of getting a different dish installed on their property gives many pause. They often hang in there, hoping that Dish will settle the dispute sooner than later.
Justin, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann