Jul 27, 2020 - Economy & Business

Dozens of local stations blacked out for Dish customers amid pandemic

Dozens of local news and sports stations across the country are blacked out for customers of satellite TV giant Dish Network after it failed to renegotiate programming fee agreements with the station owners.

Why it matters: Dish is known for being a shrewd negotiator when it comes to hashing out fees with station owners. But its recent slew of local blackouts is creating an enormous local news draught for many communities during the pandemic.

Data: Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, and The American Television Alliance; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, and The American Television Alliance; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Driving the news: Dish customers no longer have access to local E.W. Scripps TV stations — many of them local affiliates for major networks like ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox — in 42 markets across the country, according to a statement released Sunday.

  • It's the first time in Scripps' 73-year history that its stations have gone dark on customers due to a carriage agreement, the company says in the statement.
  • "Our impasse, after five months of discussions, is not about the rates DISH pays us but their inability to agree on other distribution terms," per the statement.

Dish, meanwhile, placed the blame on Scripps.

To be clear, Scripps chose to black out its own viewers," said Andy LeCuyer, Dish senior vice president of programming, in a statement. "We offered multiple extension options to keep the channels up while we continue to work toward reaching a deal during these unprecedented times, but they refused.”

Dozens of other local networks are also blacked out for Dish customers right now.

  • 14 Cox stations in 10 markets are currently blacked out for Dish subscribers across the country. Cox stations include news, but also sports. The network says consumers in several markets won't be able to watch upcoming baseball games on Fox due to the blackout.
  • 21 Sinclair regional sports networks are still blacked out for Dish customers, after the two companies failed to reach a distribution agreement last year.

Yes, but: Dish was able to strike a deal earlier this month with ViacomCBS, proving the telecom giant has managed to get some of its bigger carriage agreements over the finish line.

Between the lines: Negotiations between TV service providers and channel owners (both broadcast and cable) are often tense, with blackouts often approached or threatened, but typically avoided. Dish, more than others, has seemed OK with allowing such standoffs to result in full-on blackouts.

The big picture: As Axios has previously noted, these disputes, driven by a shrinking traditional TV market, are leading to more programming blackouts for consumers, and are forcing some smaller, niche cable channels out of business altogether.

Go deeper: 2019 sees record number of TV blackouts

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