By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man – @tvanswerman

Reader Question

TV Answer Man, is there anything new with the Dish fight with Hearst? We have not had our ABC station in Omaha for more than a month because of this fight. Does anyone know how long it will last? — Terry, Omaha.
Terry, Dish on September 8 lost 37 local channels in a carriage dispute with their owner, Hearst Television. The stations are in 27 markets which include Baltimore, Omaha, Sacramento, Des Moines, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Boston, New Orleans, among others. Since the dispute began, both companies have been tight-lipped about whether they are negotiating. That is sometimes a good sign as opposed to disputes when companies bash each other in public. But for Dish subscribers anxious to get their local stations back, the silence has made the seven-week blackout arguably even more frustrating.

Dish and Hearst Had a Carriage Dispute In 2017

But to your question regarding how long this dispute might last, history might provide some guidance. Dish and Hearst have locked horns in a carriage dispute before. Six years ago, the two companies could not reach a new carriage agreement, leaving the satcaster’s subscribers out in the cold. “Hearst is again turning its back on its public interest obligations and using innocent consumers as bargaining chips,” Dish said in a statement in March 2017. Hearst, as it did in September, countered that the TV provider was simply avoiding paying what other providers had agreed to pay.

Does the Last Fight Tell Us When This One Will End?

Despite the accusations, however, the two companies settled the fee fight 53 days later. If you’re looking for a sign of hope, the current dispute is now 51 days old. Does that mean that Dish and Hearst could be ready to settle this one as well? Not necessarily. The TV industry is different than it was six years ago. Dish, like other TV operators, has lost millions of subscribers over the years and, consequently, is more inclined to play hardball to keep carriage payments down. The company believes that the occasional blackout may be necessary to maintain profits with so many subscriber defections.

There Could Be Precedent For a Settlement

But it’s worth noting that DIRECTV and Nexstar recently settled a carriage fight after almost the same number of days it took to resolve their last one four years earlier. These battles often follow the same playbook from fight to fight. So, while there’s no hard information today to suggest a deal is near, Hearst viewers can at least look to history for some hope.

Update, November 10: Dish and Hearst settle dispute. 

Terry, hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at swann@tvanswerman.com Please include your first name and hometown in your message.

— Phillip Swann