Dish Customers, Prepare For Potential ESPN (And ABC, Disney) Blackout

An extended dispute between Disney and Dish could lead to a blackout of ESPN and ABC.

UPDATE: As expected, the two parties reached an 11th hour agreement to extend the talks past the Monday deadline. No details were provided about when an actual deal would need to be reached in order to avoid the blackout.
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An extended dispute between Disney and Dish could lead to a blackout of ESPN and ABC.

Okay, so the federal government might shut down tomorrow, which would suck. And possibly making matters worse for 14 million Dish Network subscribers is that they might not have any Disney-owned channels, including ABC and ESPN, if the nation’s second-largest satellite provider isn’t able to make a deal with the broadcast behemoth tonight.

Just like every other contract renewal agreement, there will be lots of discussion about the higher fees being charged to let cable/satellite companies carry stations. ESPN is already the most expensive single non-premium item on consumers’ cable bills, at several dollars per month.

Additionally, Disney’s bundling of stations will likely be a sticking point. While ESPN might be wildly popular, carriers are increasingly being forced to take niche-market channels like ESPN Classic, ESPNews, or ABC Family in order to get the one station that most customers actually want.

Beyond all of this now-standard dickering, there is the issue of the Hopper, Dish’s ad-skipping DVR service that is currently the subject of lawsuits by all the broadcast network operators, including Disney. Dish isn’t likely to negotiate a settlement with Disney during a contract renewal discussion — especially when all the preliminary court rulings have been favorable to Dish — but the lawsuits could cast a pall of ill will over the whole proceedings.

A Dish blackout of a major network and the biggest cable sports network would cause a much larger annoyance to American TV viewers than the recent month-long Time Warner Cable blackout of CBS and Showtime. The CBS portion of that blackout only affected 3 million customers, albeit in the two largest metro areas in the country. A Dish blackout would have an impact on more than 4 times that many viewers.

The TWC vs. CBS spat also occurred during the absolute doldrums of summer TV and ended as soon as the new NFL and college football seasons were starting. If Dish were to pull the plug on ABC just as its rolling out new shows and ESPN in the middle of the football season, the consumer backlash would likely be much more immediate and vocal — and nationwide, as Dish’s service area is generally not fenced in by local regulations.

It’s more likely that, should talks fail tonight, the parties will extend the current agreement. Many of the most public broadcaster/carrier disputes that we see are the end result of multiple extensions and failed talks. So expect to revisit this topic in the not-so-distant future.

Another Looming Shutdown: Dish Network Could Lose ESPN, ABC [WSJ.com]