Dish Gets Into Another Contract Fight, Local Networks Go Off Air In 30 States

Image courtesy of frankieleon

This is becoming a familiar refrain: Dish Network customers in dozens of markets are now unable to view their local networks, after their satellite provider and the conglomerate owning the networks were unable to agree on contract terms.

This time around, Dish’s fight is with Hearst, which owns local major network affiliates from coast to coast. The retransmission agreement between the two ended on March 1. Hearst and Dish agreed to a 48-hour extension to try to hammer out their differences, but that expired today — March 3 — and so now Dish subscribers aren’t able to view Hearst networks over their satellite connections anymore.

Hearst, for its part, says it hasn’t blacked out the channels, and that viewers can still use over-the-air antennas to receive their local channels. Hearst networks are now sharing a statement that says Dish “has continued to insist on including material terms that are less favorable than our current agreement,” and that Dish “is seeking the right to carry our stations at below market rates, which is neither fair nor reasonable.”

Dish, of course, accused Hearst of being the problem here. In its statement, the satellite provider says, “While we are listening to customers and working on their behalf to keep their TV bills manageable, Hearst is again turning its back on its public interest obligations and using innocent consumers as bargaining chips.”

The reasons why contract talks break down aren’t that hard to follow: Each company involved either wants to spend less money or make more money, and they come into conflict over the perfect balancing point. A blackout, then, is a way of playing chicken. Each party — the network and the provider — is betting that the other party would rather come to terms than have their name smeared publicly and anger their subscribers.

Up to a point, that seems to work: DirecTV, for example, was able to pick up nearly 150,000 former Dish subscribers after a Dish vs Turner blackout lasted too long and annoyed too many viewers.

And yet, we keep sesing consumers stuck in the middle when their content providers and distributors fight. For example, just in the last few years we’ve seen contract disputes trigger blackouts a huge number of times. Some of the more notable conflicts include:

In Aug. 2015, the FCC proposed a rule change that would reduce the number of blackouts paying consumers face, but that seems unlikely to move forward at this point.

Meanwhile, consumers are going to keep being the hockey puck that both sides fling around at each other, pretty much without recourse.